PRESS RELEASE

Embargoed until 00.01 Monday 26 January 1998

ICSTIS PUBLISHES NEW CODE OF PRACTICE

Telephone services watchdog ICSTIS today launches its new Code of Practice. The eighth edition of the Code, which comes into force on Monday 9 March 1998, has been published to address consumer concerns, industry developments and changing practices within the UK premium rate telephone industry. It has been produced following extensive consultation with members of the industry, consumer groups and other interested parties.

"The new Code maintains appropriate levels of protection for consumers while recognising that the industry is maturing," says ICSTIS Chairman, Baroness (Brenda) Dean. "Most premium rate services operate without cause for concern and the Code will help to ensure that this good practice continues."

Key changes to the Code include:

Definition of a premium rate service

The definition of a premium rate service has been revised to make clear that 'pay for product' services which enable callers to pay for a product or service via the telephone bill fall within the Code.

Introduction of guidelines

In response to industry requests, 'best practice' guidelines are to be published to give service providers practical advice on interpretation of the Code, in areas such as the legality of competitions or the categories of service which require ICSTIS' prior permission to operate.

Children's services

To reflect changing values and practices, the definition of a children's service has been revised to apply to those which are aimed at persons under 16 years of age. However, the new Code still prohibits the use of live, virtual chat, dating and adult services by those under the age of 18.

Competition services

Cash prizes will not be allowed in competitions aimed at children.

Virtual chat services

Cost warnings, to be given after each £10.00 that callers spend, are to be introduced, together with a requirement to obtain confirmation from callers that they wish to continue with calls. In addition, virtual chat service providers will be required to do what they can to ensure that under-18s do not use services. A provision requiring service providers to pay reasonable and valid claims for compensation in respect of disputed calls to virtual chat services has been included in the new Code but will take effect later in 1998.

Adult services

Cost warnings, to be given after each £10.00 that callers spend, are to be introduced, together with a requirement to obtain confirmation from callers that they wish to continue with calls.

Informal procedures

In response to industry requests to know more about when the informal procedure for handling complaints is invoked, details of its application have been added.

For further information or a copy of the new ICSTIS Code of Practice, contact:

Rob Dwight Tel: 0171 420 4408 (Office Hours)/0181 304 8298 (Outside Office Hours)

NOTES

1. ICSTIS, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services, is the industry-funded watchdog for premium rate telephone services. The Committee currently consists of eight members.

2. Operators of premium rate services, whether recorded or live, are bound by the terms of their contracts with the network operators (BT, Cable and Wireless, Global Numbers, Norweb Communications, Orange, Redstone Network Services, Scottish Telecom, The Cable Corporation, Torch Telecom, Vodafone Value Added Services, Worldcom and Yorkshire Cable Company) to abide by the provisions of the ICSTIS Code of Practice.

Where a company fails to do this, ICSTIS may make a recommendation to the network operator to remove the service from the telephone network and may consider imposing further sanctions.

3. The £160 million per year premium rate industry provides services ranging from competitions, weather forecasts and horoscopes to dating, racing tipster and sex lines. These are currently accessible on 50 different dialling codes. Increasingly, services are available not only by telephone but also by fax and computer and from overseas, from countries such as Guyana and Hong Kong. Approximately 20,000 services are in operation at any one time and it is estimated that over four million calls are made each week to these lines.

4. Customers on digital exchanges can request that access is barred from their telephones, either to all premium rate services or just to those dialling codes used for adult or live services. Customers can find out more information about call barring from their telephone companies.

5. ICSTIS OPERATES A FREEPHONE COMPLAINTS LINE ON 0800 500 212.