/ 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?

Comments
Member

I always try to avoid 0870 and 0845 numbers. I use VoIP phone calls on the internet and calls to fixed landlines anywhere in europe and the USA are virtually free. People who have phone tariffs which give free 0870, 0845 numbers pay more than I do overall for calls.

If I cant find a geographic number (01 or 02) with http://www.saynoto0870.com, I try google to see if I can find a number under ‘contacts’

In a very rare situation that I am forced to use a high cost number, I always complain. It has just occurred to me that I could ask to be called back.

Regards,………….Topher.
.

Member
Geoff says:
27 July 2011

0845 & 0870 numbers really annoy me! Whether from people who want my business [they don’t get it unless I have no realistic alternatives!] or from existing suppliers. The very least an existing supplier should do is to offer a normal national number to call, for those – like me – who have an inclusive landline call package. I do my best to get round them by using their so called “dialling from overseas” numbers, using “Say No to O870” and Googling to find Head Office numbers and asking to be transferred.
I also HATE websites that fail to give a telephone number to call even when you know full well that the company concerned does deal with consumers over the phone.
Far too many organisations have lost touch with the reality of what good “Customer Service” should provide, and are far more concerned with ruthless, short term cost cutting than with ensuring customer satisfaction and hence ongoing, low cost, repeat business. I’m sure that the net result is that many have to spend the money that they have “saved” on finding and acquiring replacement customers for those who – like me – vote with their feet wherever possible!

Member
Peter says:
27 July 2011

Hats off to Geoff above. Vote with feet is good but I think the golden rule is to make sure you tell the offending supplier you won’t use these numbers on principle; and keep telling them. If enough of us did this, they’d get the message sooner.

Member
Geoff says:
27 July 2011

Tell whom, Peter?
My bitter experience is that – once you have got through to someone who has the skills to help you – that person rarely has authority to respond to complaints, or access to any system for recording complaints, and are unable [not allowed?] to transfer you to a Supervisor, Manager or anyone else with such authority.
Worse still, almost none of the companies who operate this way have a an easily or obviously accessible system for registering or receiving Customer Complaints, so they do not accumulate the metrics that would allow them to identify the common causes of their customers’ dis-satisfaction; and if they don’t have that data, how can they begin to tackle their deficiencies?

Member

The answer to this problem is very simple! Change your Bank if it uses an 0845 / 0870 number, after all it is your money that is allowing it to function – even if it is just a little!

Member
Hazel Davidson says:
27 July 2011

I agree with all the above. On my phone tariff calls to geographic numbers are free, but I pay for calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers. It’s not just banks that have 0800 numbers for new customers and 0870 or 0845 for those that have been with them a while. Insurance companies use 0800 numbers on their adverts, but more expensive numbers if you want to make a claim. I keep a record of their 0800 number and use that instead – it usually works.
If I can’t find a free number for a company, then I make sure my business goes elsewhere in the future.
Also, I notice that firms that use 0870 and 0845 numbers tend to keep callers hanging on the line for ages. Companies that have 0800 numbers usually answer my call and deal with my query very quickly, often in just a few seconds. So I save time as well as money.

Member
Brian Kidd says:
27 July 2011

I think that no customers should pay to call their bank ! I also use “Say no to 0845 /0870 numbers”
web site. Some banks reserve numbers for over seas customers. If the system picks up the fact that
the incoming call is “domestic” the system will block the call. The way round this is to dial 1414 before the call number. This will show as” number withheld” on the banks system and the call should go through! Good luck.

Member
Paul Southcott says:
27 July 2011

With most phone companies now 0870 numbers are charged at standard rates it is 0871/0844/0845 you want to watch out for

Member

You’re not right here, Paul, except perhaps at weekends. Fine is you want to pay more for an inclusive package but not worth it for low usage. Suggest you read the earlier comments which offer ways round this.

Member
Sybilmari says:
27 July 2011

Of course, companies should give geographical or, preferably, freephone numbers to customers. Companies make money out of their indirect phone numbers. So anyone who dials e.g. an 0870 number is paying for the ‘customer service’. This practise is rife in UK. Other countries in which I have had to call customer services nearly always provide a freephone number – even airlines. I always look for a free or, at least, geographical number to call. Sometimes this means asking to be transferred to the right department. If the first person who answers won’t put me through I put the phone down and try again. Eventually I get someone who will put me through (they are often in the same office even when they say they cannot put me through). It is annoying but I will not pay the company to sort out my complaint or give me information.They are supposed to do that as part of their contract with the customer. If I absolutely cannot get through that way I email them and get them to phone me back. We are too soft (or maybe worn down) in the UK. We still think like serfs while the ‘Lords of the Manor’ (businesses and the rich) exploit us for their profit. We really need to show them that they need us more than we need them.

Member
Roz says:
27 July 2011

Boy, am I annoyed with this use of 0845/0871 numbers. I spent a happy 40 minutes hanging on on a 0871 number to my car insurers just to get the go ahead to fix a windcreen chip. It would have been almost as cheap to pay for the job myself. By the way, I gave up in the end and wrote them a less than complimentary e-mail!

Member
Geoff 2 says:
28 July 2011

There are some useful and effective tips in the earlier replies. As it happens, I’ve got a very good landline and call package with O2 which includes free calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers. However, many organisations are going over to 0844 numbers, which cost about 5 pence per minute. This is particularly annoying as you’re usually calling because you have a problem with the organisation concerned. However, http://www.saynoto0870.com is an excellent site and always worth a try. The tip about dialing 141 before the “call from overseas” number should also work. I really object to being kept on hold (or listening to a prolonged spiel written by compliance lawyers) when the firm concerned makes money out of its failure to answer the phone. Where’s their incentive to improve waiting times?

Member

It is not just banks that do this. Insurance companies often have an 0800 number for quotations but it can be expensive to call about anything else.

There may be a case for charging for a service that involves speaking to a person. Calls to make a complaint should be free and the company should pay for time on hold, until you are connected to someone who can provide help.

Member
SusieQ says:
29 July 2011

These numbers cost me £8 on my telephone bill last month. I could not find any other way of getting the information I needed. My broadband package does not give me free 0845 or 0870 numbers so I am going to vote with my feet and change provider although that is proving difficult trying to get the MAC code!!

Member
Clive says:
29 July 2011

The 0845/0870 con is not nearly as bad as the 0844 one! At least a large number of BT customers on an “all inclusive” tariff get calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers included at no extra cost whereas nobody has that option with the ever increasing use of the 0844 numbering. An initial “set-up” fee of almost 12p and then a range of 28 tariffs (g1 – g28) ranging from 5.00p a minute to 10.00p a minute on numbers that nearly always place you in a long menu driven queue that extracts your cash. The service provider (commercial companies) take the lion’s share of the tariff money (not the set-up fee) and the company you are calling take anything from 0.25p to 1.5p minute “to defray expenses”. You need to download the pages of data from http://www.bt.com/pricing in order to identify the tariff being charged for any particular 0844 number – it is the three digits that follow the 0844 that tell you this! Government shied away from banning their use but told the NHS to make sure that callers “are not charged more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number” but failed to inform how it is possible to monitor this or even calculate what callers are paying. This “cop-out” by Government completely ignores the hundreds of thousands of people like me who have an “all inclusive” tariff and don’t pay again for service type calls! My doctor refuses to drop their 0844 number. Bravo to http://www.saynoto0870.com it is a fantastic site and always my first port of call whenever faced with 0871 or 0844 etc. -approx 90% success rate!

Member
Ajay says:
29 July 2011

I used to use the “saynoto0870” website to find alternative cheaper phone numbers, and I can certainly recommend it to anyone. I now subscribe to the talk 08 package on Virgin Media which gives me 250 minutes to all 08 numbers for only £5 per month. Now I don’t have to worry about making calls to banks, hospitals, doctors, etc. and I don’t have to worry if they keep me on hold. I also use 0844 and 0871 numbers to make international calls and calls to mobiles. In my last bill, I did not get charged for any calls!

Member

…other than and extra £5 per month, Ajay!

Member

There are some great tips for avoiding potentially costly phone numbers here. It’s obviously a subject people feel strongly about. We’ll be looking further into the phone numbers used by insurance companies soon.

Member

Cathy, why not name and shame the bad guys – insurance companies, banks, and other companies with big call centres – Microsoft, the government etc. Then praise the ones like Which (well perhaps not Which) and the BBC who have geographic numbers. You are working for us, the members. Please just do it. It will make an instant difference.

If you think it would be unwise to do this, please explain to us exploited customers, why you cant do it. Please take up to 6 months to get the facts exactly right, then go for it!

Member

I recently received a letter from Lloyds TSB informing me they had not been able to contact me by phone, so would I please call them (using their 0845 number) or inquire at a local branch. I have three phone numbers on file with them, two of which have voice mail and the third is my work number which rolls over to my co-workers if I am not able to answer. There were no recent messages from Lloyds at any of these numbers, so I was dubious – they certainly hadn’t expended much of an effort to contact me. So, I opted to walk into my local branch and ask why they wanted to talk to me. I learned they wanted to offer me a credit product, so they expected me to pay to call them to receive their product marketing pitch – totally inappropriate!

Member

I received a call from Lloyds TSB and after the initial exchange of hellos, the caller said that he needed to confirm he was speaking to the account holder and would I provide some security information. I replied that first I needed to confirm that he was calling from Lloyds TSB so could he provide some security information. Impasse! So the call ended.

Member

John K: it happens also with utility companies. When I reached the impasse you mentioned, they threatened me with further action! I managed to keep calm, but only just! As far as I was concerned, it could have been a criminal trying to steal my identity.

Member

When buying from any company for the first time, whether online or offline, I look/ask for an 0800 or geographic number for post purchase service that I can call free with my call package. If planning to buy online an email to the company saying I am planning to place an order but as a pre-requisite require such a number almost always gets a response. If ordering by phone, I thank the person at the other end for the info. No info = no order and either way, I will phone the number provided to check before ordering.

Member

How about a Which article which names and shames the bad organisations, and praises the good ones with free or geographic numbers. Just two lists, one in red, the other in green, with a short paragraph of explanation.

Clearly Which would need to check with each company they were about to shame, this might provoke some positive changes.

When the article was published, some newspapers e.g. the Telegraph, might reprint the information. With luck some big organisations might change. Individual customers choosing to leave because of a 10p/minute call really wont make any difference, but Which can.

Regards,……………Topher.

Member
Geoff 2 says:
24 October 2011

I’ve got a very good value landline etc package with O2 which includes the cost of calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers, amongst other benefits. However, I’ve noticed that, over the last 12 months or so, companies have switched to 0844 and 0871 numbers which I have to pay for, presumably because they make more money out of them as they’re not included in the O2 and similar packages.

I still check with “saynoto0870” but does anyone have a way of getting around this blatant rip off? Why doesn’t Offcom insist that an alternative landline number’s available as well as what are, in effect, premium rate numbers.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Regards,………..Topher.
.

Member
SusieQ says:
30 November 2011

I agree with Topher. This conversation should be closed.

Member

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.

Member

Patrick,

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.

Regards,……………Topher.

Member
Geoff says:
1 December 2011

That’s got my vote!

Member
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.

Member

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.

VOTE NOW!

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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/

Member

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.

Member

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/

Member
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

Member
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.

Member

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:

http://www.saynoto0870.com

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:

http://www.pleasepress1.com

Member

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.

Member
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.

Member

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.

Member

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 🙂