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Students applying through Ucas risk big phone bills

Students may be on the recieving end of large phone bills - thanks to a premium number used by Ucas

Students who made it through clearing and secured their university places with help from Ucas may need to check their phone bill – as they've been asked to dial through on a premium number.

Fair telecoms campaigner David Hickson has spearheaded discussion of Ucas’ decision to employ an expensive 0871 helpline number, which can have cost some students nearly £5 for a 10-minute conversation.

Although Hickson acknowledged the good service Ucas provided, he expressed his disaproval of Ucas’ continued use of a 0871 number, highlighting the fact that although they do provide a 0330 number – which is included in many landline packages – the number is accessible only for international callers. Landline callers are redirected back to the 0871 number.

The average call to Ucas during the period immediately after students received their results nationally was four-and-a-half minutes, however, students could also wait on hold for that same amount of time before being put through to an operator.

In most cases the calls would be around nine minutes long – in some cases costing as much as £4.50 from a mobile, or £1.09 from a BT landline.

However, a spokesperson from the organisation said: “UCAS provides numerous avenues of support for students, the majority of which are free and there is no requirement to call UCAS to go through the Clearing process.

“If students use a mobile to call the UCAS phone line they immediately hear a message clearly stating the increased associated costs of using a mobile phone and making them aware of the cheaper option of calling from a landline.”

The spokesperson stated that any revenue received was ‘re-distributed within the UCAS charity to further improve our services and access to higher education.’

“UCAS does not benefit in any way from the increased cost associated with mobile calls.” The spokesperson said.

However, Hickson believes that although Ucas – and organisations like it – did not actually see any of the money, the value came through off-setting costs. “Put it this way; if they put it through that 0330 number it would be a different story.” He said.

Ucas also said that their services were available through Facebook and Twitter, in an attempt to keep costs down for students.

The news comes as last week the government announced a ban on expensive telephone numbers for customer inquiries to businesses, as part of a move to protect consumers from ‘rogue businesses’.

087 numbers are known as ‘non-geographic’ numbers, and as a result of the change, businesses that use them will be soon forced to switch – to 0330 numbers. According to Hickson’s organisation, the fair telecoms campaign, many companies have already made the switch; including governmental bodies such as the tax office, HMRC.