Students and graduates have earned the Student Loans Company over a million pounds in revenue from 0845 numbers over the last five years, the Scotsman newspaper has found.
The not-for-profit government company raised £325,000 in 2010/11 with revenue still reaching around £80,000 this year. The SLC has attempted to justify its use of national-rate 0845 numbers for loan enquiries and repayments that charge up to 41p a minute from mobiles, stating this week that these costs help lessen the impact on public finances.
The SLC see annual spikes in calls as new students start at university, a period that drove monthly revenue to £52,000 in September 2010. Yet with seven contact centres and busy peak times, the SLC argues that 0845 numbers offer the most practical solution. "Using non-geographic numbers allows calls to be routed to the next available adviser at any location, ensuring that calls are answered as quickly as possible. Any revenue from telephone calls is used to offset our overall telephone charges", a statement read.
However, non-geographic 03 numbers can also be routed to numerous sites. Opened in 2007, the 03 range allows public and not-for-profit organisations to offer access at geographical call rates, with callers able to use their mobile network’s minutes bundle on the service.
Owen Burek, editor of student finance website Save the Student, commented: "It is completely unacceptable that the Student Loans Company should be using premium-rate 0845 numbers and profiting from students and graduates, many of whom are likely to be calling about missing loan installments or simply for advice on repayments.
"The costs associated with higher education for today's students are already far too high. While we may only be talking a few pounds for students calling the SLC, that's still money that could be better spent on paying towards their education.
"I would urge and hope that they switch to standard-rate 03 numbers, which are by law included within any free minutes a student might have with their phone package."
Ucas also employed a premium number during clearing this year.