/ Money

Loyal customers pay to call banks – new ones get it free. Why?

Two people on telephone

Do you say no to 0870 and other pricey numbers? Sometimes it’s not always easy, especially when new customers are given free numbers to call a bank, while existing customers are told to call paid-for numbers.

And what about numbers for disabled people to call to get information in Braille or use a textphone if they are hearing or speech-impaired? Shouldn’t they be freephone numbers too?

We recently discovered a number of misleading leaflets in branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HSBC. They appeared to advertise 0845 and 0870 numbers for new customers wanting information in Braille or to use a textphone, but 0800 numbers for other new customers.

All three banks told us that this was either a mistake in their leaflets or the result of confusing wording and that they did not discriminate between disabled and other customers. But we think they should take more care with their publications.

Existing customers made to pay

HSBC said that all new customers are given 0800 numbers to call while all existing customers are given 0845 numbers, which raises another question. Why are loyal customers penalised for calling their bank?

A quick look at the websites of these three banks confirms that they all give 0800 numbers for new customers to call to apply for a current account and other products while many of the numbers for existing customers start with 0845 or 0870.

These numbers can cost up to 10p a minute from landlines, although some providers include the cost of these in their call packages, and as much as 40p from mobiles. Look at our guide on how to avoid 0870 and 0845 numbers for ways around them.

Should new customers get special treatment?

Is it understandable that banks want to do everything they can to encourage new customers to call them but are less bothered about existing ones? Would giving everyone freephone numbers just push the cost of banks’ services up for everyone?

Or should existing customers be treated the same as new ones – or even better since they give the bank their custom?


Sorry – I don’t care – In the old days I had to go to my Bank personally to get service – the cost of petrol alone far more than any 08456 phone call – and s..l..o..w. (over an hour)

Now I access my account 24/7 (as the Americans say) for free at home via the Internet – and – I can also access a helpful human telephone teller during the same period of time – My Bank does not have charges for a current account.

Why is it when companies make charges for services rendered – it is “a rip off”??. Why should customers have everything for “free” – someone has to pay the cost. Count your blessings – or change your Bank.

I have a current account with a French bank. It is a mutual. I have to pay about 5 € per month (just like everybody else) for the account which has a cheque book and a debit card which gives me up to 30 days to pay the full amount. I am delighted to pay about 60 € per year for the following reasons.

If I have a question, I can phone the branch (a geographic number) during office hours and speak the manager who knows me. He does not ask me for any security information, he just solves the problem. I have internet banking, I can make the equivalent of a BACS transfer 24/7. Once when the amount was large, the manager phoned me to check before letting the transaction go through.

Once a year the Bank has an AGM to report the results – a powerpoint presentation with senior managers speaking personally afterwards. This is followed by an entertainer, and finally a cold supper, with wine.

I would happily pay 60 € per year to a UK bank which offered the same service.

Roger White says:
21 November 2011

The best way to avoid these overpriced numbers is simply to use a service like http://www.whitepages.co.uk or http://www.saynoto0870.com, although there are also mobile apps that can find geographic numbers. That said though, I know some unscrupulous banks are taking steps to make it impossible for people to use there geographic numbers.

What’s the point in a bank having a geographic number if people can’t dial it?

My bank has a feephone number for activating new debit cards. If one hung on long enough, the call was put through to customer services and banking could be done without paying for the call. This has now been stopped, presumably because the bank got wise to this.

Another way round to finding the geographic number is to go onto the bank’s website and find the number for calling from abroad.

For example: +44 1234567890 would result in a geographic number from the UK of (0123) 456 7890.

I think this conversation should be closed. It has ended its useful life. It has provided the following valuable information.
1. Use http://www.saynoto0870.com or http://www.whitepages.co.uk to find a geographic number.
2. Look on your bank card or bank’s website for the overseas number. Omit the +44 add at zero and you have a non-ripoff or geographic number
3. Phone the rip off number and ask to be called back.
4. Support me in encouraging Cathy Neal to write a ‘Which” article. It should name and shame the bad guys – that would produce a result – what we put here will do nothing. If you like this idea, please click the ‘like’ button below to indicate your support.


SusieQ says:
30 November 2011

I agree with Topher. This conversation should be closed.

Thanks Topher and SusieQ, we don’t close Conversations to comments, no matter how old they are. They will just naturally die down, and if they don’t it might be because someone new has discovered it and feel they have something important to say.

Thanks for your idea for a new article, we’ll send it on to our Money team, but Cathy Neal sadly doesn’t work here any more.


Thanks for your prompt response. I suggested that Cathy should write an article on 30 October 2011. Nothing happened.

Consider the number of bank customers who are ripped off by 0870/0845 numbers in one year. Let me suggest some numbers and a formula. Calls probably take at least 10 minutes with the enforced music and key pad entries, so let me propose an extra 50 pence per call. Call centres have hundreds of staff and work 24/7, would you accept 500,000 calls per bank per year? For the number of banks involved, let’s say four. I have tried to choose conservative amounts.

The formula is – extra cost of a call = £0.50, times number of calls in a year = 500,000, times number of banks involved = 4. This comes to £1 million.

Surely this is enough to justify an article. I see that you used to write on technology and entertainment. I am sure you could write an excellent ‘name and shame’ piece. I think that as the subject is so general, and affects us all, it should go in Which, not Money Which.


Geoff says:
1 December 2011

That’s got my vote!

Clive says:
1 December 2011

I have contacted Which? Editorial office several times suggesting that the idea of an article on this subject was well overdue but that it MUST include an investigation in to the 0844 epidemic, as more and more companies, even small ones, are switching over to this method of extracting money from us.

Rarely do they point out in their advertising that the call charges (sometimes) quoted do not include the call set-up fee levied by BT, currently around 13p a call I think! Number often described as a Low Call number whereas was actually launched by BT as Lo-Call (i.e. a local number)! Complex charging bands (28 of them) and around ten different call rates but next to impossible now to find details on BT’s website as are deeply buried.

I’m still battling the use of 0844 numbers by GP’s surgeries as a loophole in the Dept. of Health directives of 18th & 21st December 2009 say it’s ok provided the patients are not charged more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number! Seems GP’s have worked out that patients have no way of either checking this or persuing a case! Rare that I can book an appointment at the surgery for less than a £1. Not a number that one can avoid by using “saynoto0870” or other sources – all brilliant at what they do.

Why should we have to spend so much time in finding proper numbers to use when we, their customers, need to call business’s with whom we have already spent money or will be spending money on their product? BT describe my inclusive tariff as “unlimited anytime plan” and even generously includes calls to 0845/0870 numbers but have you noticed how these have decreased in popularity as 0844 takes over?

So much more profitable for BT, for the companies that “sell” the 0844 service and the companies that take a rake-off from the charges! Expose this for what it is and do it soon please.

We need the article! Vote for the article! Vote now! As we are in the UK, you can only vote once!

Click on the ‘ blue thumbs up’ symbol at the bottom of the above three entries if you want the article. We have been swindled long enough.


Hello everyone,

Just a quick update for all of you who want us to cover this again that we’re hoping to revisit expensive phone numbers in an article in Which? later this year. Unfortunately it may not be as simple as a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ numbers as, for example, 0800 is good from landlines but can be expensive from mobiles. And we will have to focus on certain sectors due to the limitations of space in the magazine. But we’ll do the best we can to highlight good and bad practice and those companies which are getting it right (and those that are getting it wrong, in our view).

Watch this space, and in the meantime if you have any examples of companies that you think are getting it right (or wrong) let us know, particularly if you spot companies changing the type of number they use.

Ceri, OK. I accept that calls to 0800 are expensive from mobiles, but nearly all calls from mobiles cost money. I know that some people have mobiles only, but I believe that it was their choice to be mobile only. I would think the majority have landlines, how else can they use the internet? Yes I know a dongle can do it, but they are rare and expensive too.

I would like you to respect the majority of us with landlines who can make 0800 calls free and just mention the cost of 0800 to mobiles.

If space is so short, why not write the article NOW and send it to all Which subscribers where you know their email, we can pass it on to our friends, it might even get more readership than the magazine. Which should be into electronic publishing by now anyway – all the newspapers and magazines are doing it.

You asked us to name and shame the big companies that use expensive phone numbers and praise the ones that don’t. So we’ve done just that for banks, insurers and energy providers. You can find this latest issue of Which? magazine, or in the following Conversation:

‘Stop charging loyal customers more to call your company!’ https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/premium-phone-numbers-loyal-customer-services/

Patrick, Well done for shaming the banks, insurers and energy providers. Today there is public anger at government departments who have 084 numbers. Resulting from local pressure, our local GP surgery has abandoned the 084 number and reverted to an 02 number. There is a mood in the country against these rip off numbers.

You recently had a survey about buying on line, so you have a list of online suppliers already. You could run a short survey to find out which organisations cause the public the most annoyance. Gather all the information together and make a ‘Which Super Complaint” to which ever departments are responsible. You might say individual companies can do as they wish, so complain to the department of business, CBI, chambers of trade, chamber of commerce, trade bodies etc. With your skills and resources I am sure you could do a brilliant job.

Think of the newspaper headlines – “Which gets rid of 087 and 084 numbers, saving consumers millions”

Now it the time to move up a few gears, you readers would be eternally grateful, and the positive publicity for Which would be tremendous. PLEASE DO SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT.

Thanks for the comment Topher. We’ve written a new article about premium rate numbers and the government’s plans to tackle them: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/premium-rate-phone-number-customer-service-complaints-0845-0870/

James says:
19 July 2013

Lloyds still try to confuse the unknowing general public with an 0845 numbers. Their stealth costs are also ridiculous and not competitive http://www.lloydstsb.com/contact-us.asp

Clive says:
20 July 2013

My GP surgery, whilst retaining an 0844 number have very quietly introduced a local 03 number for those nimble enough to spot it! The rate at which even the smallest companies are moving over to 0844 numbering has become an epidemic and just this week I have been able to research alternative numbers for 6 businesses who wanted me to pay for the privelege of doing business with them! Many fail to advise of the cost that will be incurred and those that do mention it, usually in the smallest font possible, fail to mention that all callers will also have to pay the BT call set-up charge of around 13p. Although not well publicised the AA agreed to bring in an alternative number for their insurance customers and did so but fail to mention it in their letters, which still only give an 0844 number. It is supposedly on their website but I couldn’t find it! Just one of thousands of firms exploiting their paying customers. This needs to be exposed and explanations sought as to why they think it is acceptable.

For those of you who are not aware, the following site gives alternative numbers to the expensive ones. If you know of an alternative (cheaper) number that is not listed, please add it to the website:


The following site is a money saving one too; it allows you to save time when going through menu systems. Again, please share with others any numbers not listed:


Another way around the expensive numbers is to see whether the company has a number for callers from abroad. Then you just remove the +44 and add a zero, to give you a geographical number.

May not work in all cases, but works in some.

Geoff 2 says:
20 July 2013

Our GP’s surgery has abandoned its “premium rate” number and now has a local number I’m pleased to say. The move to 0844 numbers by so many companies is very annoying as it’s increasingly difficult to avoid them, even by using “saynoto0870”. I’ve recently ordered something from Kaleidoscope which has failed to arrive and its so-called tracking system’s useless. I’ve emailed them but the only way I can contact them by phone is an 0844 number – so I have to pay for their failure to deliver. They’ve got £75 of my money and I’ve got nothing. I am NOT happy and will not use them again.

Some companies have become crafty. My bank has an expensive number for customer services but an 0800 number for card activation. Until some time ago, savvy customers could ring the 0800 number and, by waiting long enough, get through to customer services. This has now been stopped.

But it’s worked with my car insurance provider (Aviva). Existing customers have to ring a payable number. However, I have always rung the sales number (0800) and got the agent to transfer me.

Hi all. We’ve long thought it wrong for companies to require their customers to call expensive phone numbers for customer service or complaints lines. That’s why we’ve launched out latest campaign – Cost Calls.

The government has made some changes, but this doesn’t include the financial industry. We want to put that right.

We’re calling on the government to extend the ban to the travel industry, for the public sector to lead by example, and for the financial regulator to bring the finance industry into line. You can add your signature to our Costly Calls campaign here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/premium-rate-phone-numbers/

And you can read more about the campaign and join the debate with our Executive Director Richard Lloyd here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/costly-calls-campaign-customer-helplines-premium-rate-numbers-0845-0870/

Thanks for your support 🙂