The six largest telecoms companies in Ireland – BT, Eircom, O2, Three, UPC and Vodafone – have agreed to fund a new 116 free-phone helpline number for the Samaritans. The new helpline number is expected to be operational in the first half of next year.
The companies have committed to a two-year funding programme for the number.
In July 2007, the European Commission decided to reserve a common telephone number – 116 123 – for emotional support helplines in all EU member states. This followed the decision by the European Commission to designate other 116 numbers for services of extreme social value, such as those concerned with missing children or victims of crime.
In Ireland, ComReg was charged with managing the assignment of the 116 numbers. It assigned the emotional support helpline to Samaritans, as it is the only organisation in Ireland (voluntary or statutory) already meeting – and exceeding – all of the European Commission’s minimum standards for the harmonised emotional support service, notably its 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a week coverage.
Since the number was allocated, Samaritans has been in negotiations with the six telecoms providers.
Under the new partnership agreement, calls to the 116 number for emotional support will be free to the customers of each of the six participating telecoms companies. The annual value of the arrangement is expected to be in excess of €400,000, which, according to Samaritans, represents strong recognition by the six largest telecoms providers that there is a need for a consistently accessible helpline for people struggling to cope.
“At present, Samaritans operates a lo-call helpline number, which received more than 400,000 calls over the past 12 months,” explained Suzanne Costello, director of Samaritans Ireland. “Eircom has always generously supported this lo-call helpline. The fact that the five other largest telecoms providers are now joining Eircom to support Samaritans’ new helpline number is groundbreaking, and a great example of collaboration between the voluntary and commercial sectors.
“We’re extremely grateful for the generous support from Eircom in the past, and we warmly welcome the agreement with the other five telecoms providers, which ensures that Samaritans will now be able to provide this new free-phone number.
“Other telecoms providers – outside of this group – are welcome to support the Samaritans’ new helpline now that the agreement is in place,” Costello said.