Help is just a bloated phone bill away

Dylan Bushell-Embling
10 Mar 2011

Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) will start offering free calls to some counseling hotlines, in the wake of complaints over the local industry charging for mobile calls to these and other 'freecall' numbers.

The joint venture, which operates both the Vodafone Australia and 3 brands, this week said it would pro-rate calls to counseling services Lifeline and Kids Helpline, as well as those operated by charities including Red Cross, Oxfam and Mission Australia.

A VHA spokesperson confirmed to TelecomAsia that VHA will be swallowing the cost of the calls, and that pre-paid customers will be able to make the calls for free without credit on their phones so long as they have topped up within the past 365 days.

The company may add more free lines in the future, but they must be national crisis help and support services.

While VHA has taken some flack in the local media over claims the move is a publicity stunt designed to combat the recent wave of negativeattention, LifeLine CEO Maggie Jamieson said the decision will “literally save lives.”

Elisa Freeman, director of policy and campaigns for telecom users' group ACCAN, also welcomed the announcement.

ACCAN, along with two other consumer groups, last year submitted a super complaint to regulator ACMA over what it says is the common industry practice of charging for mobile calls to these and other 1800 numbers – which are free to make from landlines.

An eight minute mobile call to one of these numbers can cost around A$7.50 ($7.57), according to the complaint. With PSTN line usage in sharp decline and the number of mobile phones outnumbering the number of Australians, this is becoming a growing problem.

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