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ACM has blocked calls to Public Health Service made through a directory assistance provider

On April 6, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) launched an investigation into a premium-rate number that is used by a commercial directory assistance provider. The number has been blocked with immediate effect. All payments related to that number have also been suspended. The company behind the number is a directory assistance provider that forwards callers to the Public Health Service (GGD), among other organizations, for making appointments for a COVID-19 test. The per-minute rate is 90 cents, and callers continue to pay that rate even after being put through. For making an appointment for a COVID-19 test, the Public Health Service can be reached directly by calling the toll-free number 0800-1202 (in the Netherlands).

On April 2, the Public Health Service sent ACM a letter complaining about the commercial directory assistance provider in question. The Public Health Service more and more often receives complaints from people that received high phone bills after calling the Public Health Service, because they were not aware that they had called the Public Health Service through a directory assistance provider. The Public Health Service claims that the use of its number in this manner harms its interests as well as the interests of individuals that wish to reach the Public Health Service. In addition, the provider’s practices, the Public Health Service argues, can have negative effects on public health, particularly on COVID-19 testing as well as on the possible spread of the virus.

Following the letter, ACM conducted a brief preliminary assessment of the use of the number. On the basis of that assessment, ACM has concluded that there are indications that, by providing the directory assistance service, the number holder does not comply with the relevant laws and regulations.

The suspension will last eight weeks at the most. During this time, the number cannot be reached, and no revenues will be paid out to the number holder. ACM will conduct a further investigation during this period.