A council house provider has been urged to ditch its expensive premium rate telephone number after a tenant was hit with a £47 bill for reporting damage caused by the company.
Mr Gary Dobson rang Newark and Sherwood Homes (NSH) several times to try to get it to replace solar lights that were broken when the company mowed a communal lawn at Wolfit Avenue, Balderton.
Mr Dobson searched for NSH on Google and was given a premium rate 0845 number.
He later found out the company, which manages around 5,500 properties on behalf of Newark and Sherwood District Council, has an 0800 freephone number, but does not promote it as much as the 0845 number.
Mr Dobson said when he received the phone bill he was shocked.
“I asked for an itemised bill just to check, and all of the charges came from Newark and Sherwood Homes’ number,” he said.
“Because of damage worth £15 to £20, I have been left with a phone bill of more than double that. It is just wrong.
“I work hard for my money and to get a bill like that is unacceptable.
“Newark and Sherwood Homes is designed to help people on low incomes.
“If people have a problem they could ring the 0845 number. They are essentially taking money off poor people.”
Mr Dobson said he had difficulty in getting the company to accept responsibility for the damage and was still waiting for replacement lights.
Mr Dobson raised his concern in a social media post, which caught the attention of district councillor Mr Paul Peacock, who told him the company had the free 0800 number.
Mr Peacock, the Labour Group leader, said he did not think it was acceptable for the company to have an 0845 number.
“It was done in good faith by Newark and Sherwood Homes at the time (it was set up) as the cheapest way of contacting them from a mobile,” he said.
Mr Dobson’s district council ward member, Mr Johno Lee, said: “Even the Government has accepted these numbers are not appropriate and has phased them out, so it is overdue that NSH does the same.”
NSH is a management company of which the district council is sole shareholder.
Mr Dave Newmarch, assistant director of housing management and responsive repairs at NSH, said: “We offer a wide range of ways for tenants to contact us, including web-forms, 24/7 web chat, email, freephone 0800 561 0010, a general enquiry line 0845 258 5550 and, for convenience, an automated payments service on 0300 456 0478.
“Tenants can also call in and see us face-to-face at Castle House, Newark, or at one of our local offices on the Hawtonville estate or Ollerton.
“The charge for calling a 0845 number is made up of two parts — a service charge determined by us and an access charge determined by the network operator.
“The service charge to a 0845 number is between 0-7p per minute.
“Newark and Sherwood Homes has chosen not to add a service charge to calls made to our 0845 number, therefore costs to this number are made up entirely of operator costs, which will vary depending on a caller’s network operator.”