With stricter rules for directory assistance services coming into force, ACM will take stricter action against violations
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) will take stricter action against violations of the rules for paid directory assistance services. On December 16, 2022, stricter rules for these services will come into effect. ACM has sent market participants a letter, reminding them of the introduction of these new rules. Directory assistance providers must adjust their services or can return their numbers. ACM will actively monitor the situation.
People are often not aware that they have placed a call using a paid directory assistance service to a hotline that they could have also called for free, such as the toll-free 0800-numbers of the Tax Information Line of the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (in Dutch: Belastingdienst) or of the Public Health Service (GGD). Anyone looking online for such numbers are easily misled, as ads of directory assistance services often appear at the top of search results. Even if a directory assistance service indicates what it charges for its services, many callers do not understand that they are calling using a paid service, according to a study. Since callers keep on paying after being put through (in most cases, approximately one euro per minute), phone bills can turn out to be unexpectedly high.
“We are glad that the rules have been tightened, because the unwanted use of directory assistance service can burden consumers and businesses with high costs”, says Manon Leijten, Member of the Board of ACM.
Putting callers through using 0906-numbers to be banned
Under the tightened rules that will come into effect on 16 December, directory assistance services that put callers through to 0800-numbers (toll-free information numbers) will be prohibited. With regard to services using numbers in the 0900, 0906 and 0909 series, putting callers through for a fee will also be prohibited in practically all other situations.
In addition, the rules will also be tightened for subscriber information numbers (numbers that start with 18), although putting callers through for a free using these numbers will continue to be allowed. One of the reasons is that such services can be useful for people that, for example, have trouble searching for phone numbers online.
With regard to these so-called 18xy-numbers, several additional measures will be implemented in order to prevent callers from not knowing that they are calling using a paid directory assistance service. For example, a prescribed message about the paid service must be played to callers before being put through. In addition, callers must give their explicit and unequivocal consent to being put through. If a caller does not give their consent, the call must be disconnected immediately. In addition, stricter rules will come into force about how the 18xy-services are offered and promoted. From December 16, 2024, calls using a 18xy-number cannot cost more than 10 euros.
Starting December 16, 2022, ACM will review all active 0906-numbers and all 18xy-numbers and check whether they comply with the new rules. If ACM establishes any violations, it can impose a fine or an order subject to periodic penalty payments, or it can withdraw a phone number. Complaints about directory assistance services or subscriber information numbers can be filed with ACM’s consumer information portal, ConsuWijzer.
- 27-03-2019 ACM takes action against misleading practices in directory assistance services (in Dutch)
- 22-11-2019 Guidelines on the prevention of misleading practices with regard to directory assistance services (in Dutch)
- 22-11-2019 ACM has drawn up guidelines on the prevention of misleading practices with regard to directory assistance services
- 01-04-2021 Study by ACM: more transparency from directory assistance providers does not eliminate deception
- The notification of the regulation in the Dutch Government Gazette (in Dutch)
- The notification of the decision in the Dutch Government Gazette (in Dutch)