A premium rate phone line claiming to help people on benefits find accommodation in the private rented sector has been fined £100,000.
PhonepayPlus – which regulates premium rate phone lines on behalf of communications watchdog Ofcom – also required London & Southern Housing Limited to pay back people who had claimed a refund within six months and to seek permission to operate any premium rate service for 12 months.
The regulator received eight complaints between October 2011 and February 2012 about the ‘09’ high rate ‘housing support line’.
Complainants reported they were not told about the £1.53 per minute cost of the call and were left on hold or asked a large number of questions which lengthened the call.
Despite advertising it helped people find ‘DSS friendly’ housing PhonepayPlus also discovered the phone line only produced a list of numbers of people who were not connected to the service and may not have been prepared to house people on benefits.
The adjudication reads: ‘The tribunal considered the evidence and concluded that callers were vulnerable as a result of their personal circumstances (seeking housing and in receipt of benefits) and that the provider had sought to take advantage of this vulnerability by targeting the service at them.’
The premium line regulator’s decision last month came just nine months after the Advertising Standards Authority banned adverts for a similar service run by London & Southern Housing.
The ASA adjudicated the ‘housing support line’ advertisement was misleading because it did not demonstrate it was able to help people on benefits move into private rented accommodation.
It told the line operators to ensure the adverts did not appear again in their current format and to ‘ensure that they held robust documentary evidence to substantiate all claims in future’.
Inside Housing was unable to reach the owners of the phone line for comment.