/ 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?


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.


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!

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.

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?

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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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?

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.

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!!

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!

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!

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.