The Ministry of Justice was landed with a whopping £25,000 bill from a sex chatline operator after sneaky ex-cons found a way to “reverse the charges” on premium-rate calls.
The inmates were among thousands released on licence as part of measures to reduce prison overcrowding during the coronavirus pandemic.
They had been provided with mobile phones while they were on probation and as far as MoJ bosses were concerned, the phones couldn’t make calls to premium-rate numbers.
But they had been misinformed.
At least nine ex-prisoners racked up bills of around £2,000 each after working out that they could request a call back by text, leaving ministry chiefs fuming.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland “hit the roof” when the bill landed on his desk, according to The Sun.
“The Secretary of State was completely livid on hearing about this screw-up as he had been assured these phones could not be used to make calls,” a source said.
“He told the officials in no uncertain terms that the taxpayers should not pay a single penny of this sordid bill."
Panicked civil servants got in touch with the phone providers in a bid to get the amount reduced.
The bill has now reportedly been waived, with the MoJ source adding: “We’ve got the right result now."
Former prisoners who are currently on probation can get advice on finances, housing and mental health issues from a special helpline that’s been set up by companies such as Kent Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company Ltd, who have taken over the supervision of low and medium-risk offenders from government agencies.