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A level pupils face hefty phone bills to call clearing hotlines

Students needing to call universities in the scramble for places due later this week can expect to face considerable phone charges, an exclusive Schools Week investigation can reveal.

Only 14 universities offer Freephone numbers for young people to call during clearing – and one university charges callers at a business rate.

A level results will be released on Thursday, and students who miss their grades will be expected to call universities with places available to verbally confirm their suitability.

Schools Week analysed the advertised phone numbers UK universities provided for young people going through clearing. Only 14 of the 132 universities provide an 0800 or 090 number to call.

From July 1, 0800 and 0808 numbers have been free to call from mobile phones.

But Kingston University, in south west London, only offers an 0844 number for calls to its clearing hotline.

The university said that the cost of calls to the students is only 7p a minute and it makes no profits from the calls. However, 0844 numbers also attract a “service charge” from mobile phone providers.

In the case of an EE or Orange mobile contract, 0844 calls are charged an additional 44p per minute, alongside the 7p a minute charged by Kingston.

Which? University’s guide to making calls during clearing warns that students may need to undergo an interview process which can take up to 30 minutes. In the example given, this would cost the young person more than £10.

All other universities use a standard landline number, which are charged at various rates, usually under 10p.

A spokesperson for Kingston University reiterated that the 7p charge is made by the university’s telecoms provider and no revenue is generated by the university.

“Kingston University receives tens of thousands of calls to its clearing hotline. The university’s switchboard would not be able to cope with this volume of calls, therefore we use an external telecoms provider with cloud-based technology to enable us to give as many prospective students as possible the opportunity to get through to the university.

“We have 120 specially-trained hotline operators and more than 100 academic staff ready to assist callers to help those with the necessary qualifications snap up one of the few remaining places on our degree courses.”

Niall McWilliams, headteacher of The Oxford Academy, said the school offers phones to pupils and opens a clinic on Thursday and Friday to allow young people to speak with staff and use school telephones, but was shocked so few universities offer Freephone numbers.

He said: “It is not right that they are not free numbers. In extreme circumstances it could be prohibitive for somebody getting a university offer. If they are from a deprived background, if they are unable to get into school, that £15 could stop them from getting a place.

“Clearing numbers should be free.”

A spokesperson from Edge Hill University, which offers a Freephone number, said: “We recognise that students might speak to lots of universities at clearing and so we want to make it as easy for them to speak to us as often as they want to without having to think about the costs of calling from a mobile.”

UCAS offers help with exam results from careers advisors on a free number on Thursday – 0808 100 8000.

The universities with free clearing phone numbers

– Aberystwyth University
– University of Bradford
– University of Cumbria
– Edge Hill University
– London Metropolitan University
– London South Bank University
– Newcastle University
– Queen Mary, University of London
– University of Strathclyde
– University of Surrey
– Swansea University
– Teesside University
– University of The West of Scotland
– University of Westminster

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  1. For those callers with an allowance of ‘inclusive’ call minutes on their landline or mobile, calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers will simply use that allowance and attract no further per-minute charges.

    As you rightly note, calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers are free from landlines and mobiles.

    Calls to numbers starting 090 have a Service Charge of up to £6 per call or up to £3.60 per minute. Numbers starting 087 have a Service Charge of up to 13p per call or per minute while those starting 084 have a Service Charge of up to 7p per minute or per call. In all cases this on top of the Access Charge levied by the caller’s provider. This is up to 12p per minute from landlines and up to 45p per minute from mobiles.

    The revenue generated by the Service Charge subsidises or pays for the additional call-handling and call-forwarding costs inherent in the use of a non-geographic number. These costs are normally several pence per minute at most. The usual arrangement is that the remainder is either paid out to the called party as “revenue share” or provides a discount off the cost of other telecoms services provided.

    If calls to Kingston have a 7p per minute Service Charge and Kingston sees no benefit from that, then they appear to be being ripped off by their provider. Swapping to the matching 0344 number is the right thing to do.

      • Most mobile networks offer their ‘pay as you go’ customers a variety of packages with inclusive calls, texts and internet access, usually ranging in price from £5 to £20 per month.

        These deals normally include hundreds of minutes of calls to numbers starting 01, 02, 03, 071-075 and 077-079 and this is now the most common way for these types of calls to be made.

  2. Which universities are using numbers starting 090? These are premium rate numbers with a Service Charge of up to £6 per call and/or up to £3.60 per minute on top of the Access Charge of up to 12p per minute from landlines or up to 45p per minute from mobiles.

    Presumably, “0800 or 090” was meant to say “0800 or 0808”?