/ Money

Financial firms are still charging customers to complain

Mobile phone next to coins and credit card

Nearly three quarters of the phone numbers used by financial firms for customer service or complaint lines are 084 or 087. That’s wrong – you shouldn’t have to cough up for costly calls to make a complaint.

I keep a close eye on my finances, and while I’ve never had too many issues with my bank, last summer I noticed an unusual charge on my credit card. Worried that something was up, and knowing I couldn’t get to any of their branches, I wanted to find out what it was.

As it turned out, there had been an error and the charge was removed as soon as I flagged it. However, when my phone bill arrived, I was incensed to find out that it had cost me a couple of quid for the privilege of complaining.

Financial firms charging customers to complain

We know that four in ten people prefer to call financial firms with an enquiry, and understandably so. But our latest research shows that whether you’re contacting your high street bank, your credit card provider or an insurance company, it’s pretty hard to avoid paying a premium.

We looked at phone numbers used by companies for everything from current accounts to credit cards and found that 177 out of 242 customer service or complaint lines used pricey 084 or 087 numbers.

It doesn’t help that new customers are often given a freephone 0800 number to call! The message seems to be that they don’t need to charge you to get your business, but they’re happy to do so once you’re a valued customer.

A ban on costly calls

A new EU law, the Consumer Rights Directive, will stop companies charging anything more than the basic rate for customer helplines in 2014. Unfortunately, financial firms aren’t covered. We don’t think that’s right, so we’re calling on the Financial Conduct Authority to take action and bring them into line with everyone else.

Almost 60,000 people have already signed our Costly Calls campaign and their support is already having an effect. Barclays, Barclaycard, RBS and Natwest have announced that they will soon offer freephone and 03 numbers for all their customer phone lines.

With two of the biggest banking groups now leading the way by offering freephone or geographic numbers, we hope this is a tipping point – there’s really no excuse for other providers not to follow suit.

If you think it’s wrong that you have to pay through the nose to call your bank or mortgage provider, sign our petition and then tell us why you want to see an end to costly calls in the comments below.

Should financial firms be allowed to use expensive customer helplines?

No – customers should not be charged excessively (100%, 4,716 Votes)

Yes – it’s fine for them to charge customers (0%, 11 Votes)

I don’t mind (0%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,738

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David Ball says:
18 November 2013

I very much object to so many companies having charge lines; even garden suppliers, I always thought a company doing buisness helped people to contact them. I asked a company recently why this was so and they replied they did not have a freephone number. I do not want that but an ordinary number to use. I have a 27/7 call system and pay up front for that so I do not want to pay extra. Do companies not understand or am I missing a point?

General view says:
18 November 2013

calling a bank 1 min after they opened .I was asked for my 16 digit no. I made a point of speaking clearly ,then they stated ,that I had to repeat it,which I did ,very slow and clear.I was then told I would have to speak to someone as my no wasn’t clear.,and of course I got the music.I no longer phone ,but go into the bank or whatever ,and I find they let me use their phone ,again with the music and excuses but their paying for it now.So I win. I would like to know how come all operators were busy 1 min after opening time?
Surely not another con!

Bill Q says:
18 November 2013

It’s quite strange that one is nearly always put on hold and is told (repeatedly) that “your call is important to us” on an 084 number, but when you’re calling an 0800 number you usually don’t have to wait very long before a real human being answers! Strange, that.

Geoffrey says:
18 November 2013

You can always type “Saynoto084/087numbers” Into your search engine and find an alternative number

Bill Q says:
18 November 2013

Yes, I do it all the time, but some companies are waking up to this.

Bill Q says:
18 November 2013

BTW it’s “Saynoto0870”. Just correcting for those bods looking for the site. 🙂

Ian01 says:
18 November 2013

You could type that in, but you won’t always find an alternative number.

The point is, consumers should not have to be faffing about in this way.

Businesses should have a geographic-rate number as standard.

When Ofgem challenged BT about 0845 and 0870 they just contacted companies to get them to change to 0844 and 0871 so we are no better off, these numbers should now be challenged.

Ian01 says:
18 November 2013

Can you substantiate that? Obviously not the spurious bit about the energy regulator being involved.

What exactly was this alleged “challenge” about?

It may have been a previous Quango as Ofgem started to cover several things now and don’t get any right , I believe it was to do with the money companies were making out of the calls, shortly after bringing in 0844 and 0871 they started in cluding 0845 and 0870 free in calls inclusive packages, I believe this only applies to some phone line providers.

I have been fighting with companies of all kinds for many years about high charge customer service numbers etc. Sometimes I have been given a refund or goodwill gesture of cash and sometimes an 0800 number which previously they had been reluctant to declare. Sometimes I have sent an email (if one is available) if I notice a premier call number is the alternative and put the onus on the business to call me. The problem with that though is some companies either do not respond or when they do, any urgency is lost.
It really gets up my nose to ring expensive numbers only to go through endless options or wait in an endless queue listening to mindless,repetitive music and at the end of it to be told to ring another expensive number or the line drop out.
I personally believe that many companies play a game to delay you as long as they can to deliberately clock up a large bill for the caller. It has to stop and the sooner the better.
Another gripe I have is the high extra charge imposed by some companies if a credit card is used as a payment method rather than a debit card but that is another matter.

Maureen Parker says:
19 November 2013

Its not only banks but also the doctors surgery does every phone call to the3se premium numbers say “we know you are waiting” and value your sevice but all our employees are busy, therefore creating a large phone bill.

Kingston Communications, our landline and broadband provider, does not charge its members for any 0870 and 0845 calls we make, which is a bonus – why can’t all telephone companies do the same?

Its great some banks are changing their numbers – I would like to see travel agents do the same: quite lot of the Thomson branches in our area use separate 0845 numbers but I have no knowledge regarding cost per call!

Calls to 0845 numbers incur a 2p/min Service Charge to the benefit of the called party. That’s what stops these calls generally counting towards inclusive allowances. Technically, 0845 numbers are no different to an 0843 or 0844 number with a Service Charge at the lower end of their scale of 2p to 7p/min. However, a small number of landline providers subsidise the Service Charge on 0845 calls and allow them to count towards inclusive allowances. They do not do the same for the equivalent 0843 or 0844 calls.

Revenue sharing was suspended on 0870 numbers in 2009. There is currently no Service Charge to pay when you call an 0870 number. This allows the call to be inclusive in many landline call plan allowances. However, mobile operators haven’t dropped their prices for calling 0870 numbers, nor made these calls inclusive. Ofcom is shortly expected to announce that revenue sharing will return to 0870 numbers in 2015. It’s anticipated that the Service Charge will be around 10p/min.

Many users of 0845 and 0870 numbers continue to use them as they are under the mistaken impression that these numbers are cheap to call for everyone. The reality is that 0870 is cheap to call only from landlines and 0845 is cheap only from BT landlines and from those landlines that copy BT prices. On the other hand, 0345 and 0370 numbers, indeed all 03 numbers, are charged at the same rate as calling an 01 or 02 number and count towards inclusive allowances from landlines and mobiles. 03 numbers have been available since 2007 but the adoption rate for them has been slow. Once the provisions of the Consumer Rights Directive pass into law at the beginning of 2014, that rate will dramatically increase. Users can simply move from their existing 084 or 087 number to the matching 034 or 037 number.

The pricing regime for 084, 087 and 09 numbers in place for the last decade or more has placed a pricing restriction on BT’s retail call prices for 084, 087 and 09 numbers. Call pricing on other networks is unregulated. It is BT’s call price that is unusually low in the market. It is BT that varies from all of the others.

The restriction placed on BT call prices for 084, 087 and 09 numbers will be lifted at the same time as Ofcom’s “unbundled tariffs” system comes into force in 2015. At that point, both 0845 and 0870 numbers will no longer be included in call allowances. Additionally, users of 084, 087 and 09 numbers will be required to declare the Service Charge for their number wherever it is advertised.

Under the “unbundled tariffs” system, phone providers will set and declare a single Access Charge per tariff covering all 084, 087 and 09 numbers. If the Access Charge is set at the same level as a call to an 01, 02 or 03 number, it will soon become clear that due to the Service Charge, calls to 0845 numbers cost 2p/min more than calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, calls to 0870 numbers cost 10p/min more than calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, calls to 0843 and 0844 numbers cost 2p to 7p/min more than calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, calls to 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers cost up to 13p/min more than calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, and calls to 09 numbers cost up to £3 per minute more than calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers.

While the call price for 0870 numbers from landlines will rise and the call price for 0845 numbers from BT landlines (and from those that copy BT prices) will rise, the requirement to set and declare a single Access Charge per tariff covering all 084, 087 and 09 numbers will see a significant reduction in the call price when they are called from a mobile phone. The current “equivalent” levels of Access Charge charged by mobile operators (e.g. around 28p to 39p/min for calls to 084 numbers, slightly less for calls to 087 numbers, and very much more for calls to 09 numbers) will not be tolerated by Ofcom.

This is the essence of Ofcom’s “simplifying non-geographic numbers” project. It will show that 084, 087 and 09 numbers are “expensive” because you also pay a Service Charge to the benefit of the called party and it will show that 01, 02 and 03 calls are “cheap” because there is no such additional charge. By splitting the call price for 084, 087 and 09 numbers into two components, it will be clear how much money your telephone company is making from the call and how much money is being passed to the telephone company of who you are calling.

Not sure if the change coming in 2014 affects Scotland, but if you have an electric supply emergency you have to ring an 0845 to get through to Scottish Power

The change affects every country in the European Union.

Correct. The only difference will be that some countries will preserve the exempt industry sectors listed in Article 3 whereas other countries will partially or fully remove the exemptions, none of which are justified. The biggest question in a pan-European context, even for UK residents, is whether passenger transport services will be exempt by other countries. If the UK removes this exemption and other countries do not, then I can see anomalies with the likes of Wizzair whereby either its UK number will become a loophole for all its customers across the EEA or UK consumers will be disadvantaged by having to call a surcharged number in another EEA country. However, the latter would be very hard for an airline to implement.

Mohan says:
19 November 2013

Generally, if a company/Institution is operating from UK, they should provide a freephone or a landline number. For a government institutions to use premium numbers is outrageous.
Furthermore, when ringing a premium number, more often than not, you are put on hold and they use this space to advertise at your expense.


I asked a SKY salesman about this at one of those booths in a shopping mall. Without hesitation he gave me this number 0207. I tried it and it worked!

0845 should be banned!

Kevin says:
19 November 2013

A lot of companies are using these high rate numbers – just 2 companies I am disappointed in are Laura Ashley and John Lewis – why do they need to use these phone numbers ,do they pocket the extra money or does the phone provider gain ?. I don’t mean they need to always use a free 0800 number but at least a normal local number would be better for customers,

I do not know why the government and Ofcom have been allowing this blatant rip off to go on for so long. I complained to Ofcom many years ago about this and they told me then they intended to stop it. Stll waiting. Another government rip off is the charge of £100 for a replacement passport when overseas should you have the bad luck to lose it and which only is valid for the trip back home. I lost mine recently in Portugal and the consulate gave me a replacement in 10 minutes off their computer system because I had a couple of photos with me, how can they justify this extortionate amount for so little work ?

As I said above, Ofcom foolishly shifted the problem from 0870 to 0844 several years ago, despite having been warned that this would happen (and this is all on public record). It’s hardly surprising that this mess has evolved when we have such an incompetent and negligent regulator.

NFH – you have to wonder why the British Public allows incompetent (in our eyes) regulators to continue to function in the way they do. It might be useful if Which? devoted more energy to investigating them and campaigning for change if there really are grounds. It is time the consumers in this country held to account those who are supposed to work on their behalf. Any chance of this happening? I doubt it – we don’t have an organised lobby, do we?

Ian01 says:
19 November 2013

Ofcom will shortly deliver the end result of their long-running “simplifying non-geographic numbers” project. That project is currently running many months late, not least due of stiff opposition encountered from various phone companies and especially several mobile networks.

The changes about to the brought in by Ofcom should have the desired result in the non-geographic numbers market. The error previously made with 0870 numbers will be put right. Overall, the measures will bring greater transparency to the call price of all 084, 087 and 09 numbers, and this will see consumers treated much more fairly than before.

However, the new Ofcom system must not be considered in isolation. It must be seen to be complementary to the various measures brought in by BIS as a result of the Consumer Rights Directive.

One way of beating the AA insurance is use the 0800 for sales then use the key pad options to talk about your policy, rather than the 0844 given with your documents.

p. drewery says:
19 November 2013

With our telephone system we have unlimited free local calls. I therefore object to having to ring the head office of a building society e.g. Yorkshire B.S., even on an 0845 number, to enquire about interest rates or to make an appointment with my local branch to discuss the possibility of future investments. If they want my business I should not have to pay for the privilege of making such an enquiry

sybilmari says:
19 November 2013

I have lived in countries all over the world and all of them had freephone numbers for their banks. Many even have freephone numbers to call them when abroad. What is more their airlines and energy companies etc all had freephone numbers. UK seems to be exceptional in the way companies automatically rip off their customers. We have put up with it for too long and when people do that the companies will carry on abusing the situation. It is excellent that Which is now proving to be the organisation that stands up for us and has clout. I am very grateful.

The UK is not unique or exceptional in this respect. This is a widespread problem all over the EU, particularly in the EU’s largest countries such as France and Germany. For example Germany’s equivalent of SayNoTo0870.com is 0180.info (given that Germany’s equivalent of our 084/087 is 0180). The pan-European nature of this unfair commercial practice is why the European Commission is outlawing it.

However, you would be right to compare this culture to the United States, where a business operating a surcharged number for customer services would quickly lose most of its customers. In the US, a free 1-800 number is expected, whereby the business pays to receive the call, i.e. the complete opposite of the European culture.

Just a tip off!
The RBS group, RBS, Natwest etc… have just updated the websites contact details to new local rate numbers

David Ellis says:
13 December 2013

Banks give us a poor enough service already with deposits loosing their value because interest rates are lower than inflation. We should not also have to pay them to make inquiries. We must keep up the campaign to have them and insurance companies included in the legislation.

We seem to be months in and past the deadline for those who are compelled to provide ‘normal cost’ numbers. Time to name and shame some of the slackers and the ‘voluntary’ ones in the financial sector who use this scam.

Couple of weeks ago switched car insurance provider to Octagon . . . The premium was less but the hassle factor and call cost stupendous once they have your business. Long waits and long conversations.

I have been messed about over the course of three calls by Octagon Insurance who use expensive numbers when necessarily calling from a mobile , , , , If you are looking for a lower cost insurance beware these shysters. It costs you in time, call costs and frazzle.

They have impossibly detailed requirements for proof of NCD which they don’t tell you about until after you have switched. Then they find fault with your old brokers renewal letter and your old companies certificate of NC years earned . . . . They send harrying letters, you spend ages on their expensive number talking to chippy ‘agents’ trying to find out what they actually want and what is the regulatory underpinning for their ridiculous demands.

Time these people were made to pay for the call themselves not just provide a ‘normal cost’ number! Whilst they make money they have every incentive to keep you holding and talking.