National Lottery operator Camelot has announced its decision to disconnect its Freephone helpline number from December 7.

The number will be disconnected months before the new website is operational, angering retailers who will now be charged a premium rate of 16.96p per minute for service related calls, until the site is piloted. 

National Federation of Retail Newsagents chief executive Paul Baxter said: “We met Camelot to detail our members’ concerns about the premium rate telephone line and we felt that it appreciated our members’ concerns. We encouraged Camelot to keep the 0800 number available, at least until the new website was introduced.

“We are now bitterly disappointed to hear the freephone number will cease to operate from December 7, when the website has not even been piloted and is a long time away from being launched. We would strongly urge Camelot to think again and continue to offer the freephone number up until a time when retailers are confident in using the new website.”

Dan Cock, owner of Whitstone Stores, Devon, said: “I think it’s a very disappointing decision from Camelot that will cause a sizeable inconvenience to retailers. Other services are already expensive as it is and now it seems things are only getting harder.

“I’m not sure if retailers were consulted about the decision. A new website should be useful, but it still doesn’t solve every problem, sometimes you need to report a fault or something that requires a phone call, and now that simple service is going to cost us.”

A Camelot spokesman said: “At the end of September, we proactively told all of our retailers of the change. We kept the 0800 retailer number running, for two months, alongside the new retailer hotline to ensure a smooth transfer. The new 0844 number costs 7p a minute, plus the retailer’s service provider’s access charge. To put this into context, established independent retailers made £6,500, on average, in retailer commission last year.

“We are heavily investing in a wide range of digital improvements especially for retailers – including a brand new retailer website and IVR system. We are currently conducting a small-scale pilot on the site – with around 100 retailers and, depending on the outcome of this, will proceed to full rollout in due course.”

The new number for Camelot retailer enquiries is 0844 338 7301.