Helplines get support to be there for society’s most vulnerable callers


Helplines Partnership welcomes moves by BT to waive Payphone Access Charges for helplines.

Every day people call helplines for support. Many helplines use a number where the caller doesn’t have to pay. This means that if someone doesn’t have any money available to make a call, they can still reach out for help. Some particularly vulnerable people use payphones to contact helplines.

The Payphone Access Charge (PAC) was charged to helplines that operate a free phone number and have callers contacting them from payphones. Costs have increased from 9 pence per minute (ppm) to 72ppm over the past few years and this has caused financial difficulties for helplines. Some helplines were forced to bar calls from payphones as a result of these costs resulting in loss of services for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

Helplines Partnership has long campaigned on this issue. Our research has shown that helpline callers who use payphones are particularly vulnerable, and the payphone may be their only source of access to help and support. In addition, many helplines face rising numbers of calls from people in need, and have tight constraints on their funding.

Key groups that we identified were people fleeing domestic violence or people living in violent situations where access to a mobile or landline phone is controlled and monitored; children who have run away from home, people in prison or receiving in-patient treatment for mental illness; homeless people and people who are feeling suicidal.

Other reasons why people need to use payphones include not having the economic resources to own or run a mobile phone, a lack of confidence in mobile phones from older callers, people making a spontaneous decision to call, or their mobile being unavailable through lack of credit or battery life. Helplines also receive calls from people who live in chaotic or crowded accommodation for whom the payphone offers a safe, private and confidential space.

From 1st April 2015 all members of Helplines Partnership who have a free to caller number will no longer face Payphone Access Charges. With a typical helpline call of 40 minutes duration this represents a saving to a helpline of £28.80 per call from a vulnerable caller who has to use a payphone. This saving applies to all member helplines operating under the Special Freephone Tariff, or who have numbers beginning with 0800, 0808 or 0500. In addition any helpline on the 116 range will also receive relief.

Liz Felton, Chair of Helplines Partnership, said:
“This is fantastic news for helplines and their callers. The Payphone Access Charge made it challenging for helplines to receive calls from people that really need support. These changes will provide the biggest benefit to people with complex needs who really are in need of support by enabling helpline services to be able to take their call”.

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