The Australian Communications and Media Authority has announced that 1800 calls made from mobile phones will now be free of charge, even for pre-paid customers who have run out of credit.
According to ACMA, which consulted with telcos on the move, individual telco providers "have made separate plans to make all calls to 1800 numbers from mobile phones free of charge" and these will begin rolling out "in due course".
"These calls will be free for pre-paid mobile customers (even when they run out of credit but only until their service expires)," ACMA advised.
Speaking about the move to free 1800 calls, the CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Teresa Corbin said it was "a great win" for consumers.
"For the first time these calls will be free from mobiles," she said. "ACCAN has been calling on the industry to provide a solution to this problem since 2010, and we ask that industry honour its own commitment to a January 2015 deadline."
1300 numbers still attract charges
Numbers in the 13/1300 range will still attract call costs for users, though mobile operators have committed to offering "13-friendly" mobile plans. These plans will still charge for calls to 13 and 1300 numbers, though they "will be charged against the included-value allowance on [the user's] plan, rather than billed separately".
ACMA has also committed to introducing a 'call-back' system for government agencies such as Medicare and Centrelink (both 13 numbers), "which enable consumers to avoid spending long periods waiting in call queues". This has been targeted at "vulnerable consumers" for whom high call costs are an issue.
However, ACCAN still has reservations about the cost of calls to 13/1300 numbers, especially for those who have difficulty managing telecommunications expenses.
"We remain concerned about the affordability of calls to 13/1300 numbers, especially for low income and vulnerable consumers, and the ongoing confusion around how these calls are charged," said Corbin.
"The cost of calls to 13/1300 numbers can chew through pre-paid mobile plans, which are often favoured by lower income consumers. And while there has been a significant increase in 13-friendly monthly mobile plans, the cost of 13/1300 calls can vary widely, from 3 cents per minute to $1.39 per minute."
Corbin said ACCAN would continue to monitor the industry and lobby businesses and government to switch to 1800 numbers "when deciding how best to communicate with consumers and citizens".