/ Money

Stop charging loyal customers more to call your company!

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.

Being loyal to a company can be an expensive business. For example, we see our savings rates dwindle if we’re not prepared to switch banks regularly.

To make matters worse, our latest investigation found that many banks, insurers and energy companies are charging existing customers a premium to call them, while reserving 0800 numbers – free to call from landlines – for potential new customers.

I shouldn’t be surprised. My colleague Cathy Neal identified the same issue when she looked at bank phone numbers last July. In fact, we expanded our investigation into other areas thanks to your suggestions on Which? Conversation. Topher asked:

‘How about a Which? article which names and shames the bad organisations, and praises the good ones with free or geographic numbers?’

So, in response to your suggestions, we looked specifically at the numbers provided for new customers, existing customers and for making complaints for 34 energy providers, banks and insurers. And here’s what we found (click on the gallery images to enlarge – we’ve also included a table for landline vs mobile call costs):

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It’s not so straightforward…

Commenter Topher also suggested a colour code – red for bad, green for good. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t as black and white (or red and green) as we might like.

For instance, we found that the Bank of Scotland and Direct Line use 0844 and 0845 numbers across the board. But is this better or worse than Churchill, HSBC, Natwest/RBS and Scottish Power and the like, which use 0800 for new customers and 0845 for existing ones? We asked the latter group the reasons for these discrepancies, but received no satisfactory answers.

I also wonder, is an 0800 number better than an 01 or 02 number, considering that 0800 numbers can be expensive from mobiles while many landline packages tend to include free calls to 01 and 02 numbers?

Just to throw another spanner in the works, those much-hated 0845 numbers are at least as cheap to call (sometimes cheaper) than 01 or 02 numbers from a BT landline at peak times. So it’s no small wonder that 86% of Which? Convo readers professed to being confused by the cost of 08 numbers.

Fair and square

A couple of companies in our investigation stood out as worthy of particular praise. For example, energy companies Npower and Ovo Energy offer many of their customers a choice of 0800 and 01 or 03 numbers; a win-win for landline and mobile users alike.

If a company insists on using 0844 or 0845 numbers, in terms of fairness I prefer the non-discriminatory approach – it just seems unfair to make loyal customers pay more than new ones. I’d like to see more companies treating all their customers well by adopting freephone or lower-cost numbers across the board.

beemc says:
24 June 2012

My doctor’s surgery now has an 0844 number. My phone bill shows that I have been charged 25p for a 3 minute call. If I was able to ring using the UK area code the call would have been free under my contract with my telephone provider.
Most of the 3 minutes was taken up by a recorded voice telling me that the cost would be no more than a local call.
I hate to think how much a call from a mobile to an 0844 number would be.

Rob says:
25 June 2012

**Just to throw another spanner in the works, those much-hated 0845 numbers are at least as cheap to call (sometimes cheaper) than 01 or 02 numbers from a BT landline at peak times.**
Not for people who have unlimited landline calls up to 59 minutes per call included as part of their cll package they aren’t.

**My doctor’s surgery now has an 0844 number.**
This was banned in April 2010. GPs were given until April 2011 to comply. There’s a lot of information about this online. You can and should complain.

**Most of the 3 minutes was taken up by a recorded voice telling me that the cost would be no more than a local call.**
Complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. That announcement is factually incorrect and they can take action against it. 084 numbers are NOT “local rate”.

**I hate to think how much a call from a mobile to an 0844 number would be.**
About 20 to 40 pence per minute. This is why 0844 numbers are banned for GPs. Calls to GPs must cost no more than when calling an 01 or 02 number.

jack says:
15 May 2013

My GP still uses the 0844 number in spite of the so called ban, and so do many other surgeries.
Calls from my land line can cost between 0.50p to £1.20 depending on the length of the call. They are certainly more expensive than a local call.

Joanna says:
24 June 2012

I refuse to use 0845 or 0870 etc call numbers especially as we are with TalkTalk not Bt. I always log on to the http://www.saynoto0870.com website and there is usually a UK landline number or a 0800 number as options, often a main switchboard number that will put you through to any department It is a really good site.

marcha says:
14 August 2013

Would fully support this comment. I too always use this site if faced with a 0845 etc number. Shame more people aren’t aware of this site


One of the great problems that this can of worms of differing prefixes causes is that one is often unsure what any call is going to cost.
I have been using the excellent 18185.co.uk service for many years, [and saved a small fortune doing so].
This company always tells you when you dial any number how much a minute it will cost you before connecting you – so you can hang up if you want – and know in advance what you are paying.

I still believe stongly that 0845 and 0870 etc etc numbers are scourge of modern telephony, but at least if it was a requirement that ALL companies provide a tariff announcement service for every call, it would become more transparent, and make it clear to all of the phoning public how much extra we are paying for the nonsensically named “Lo-call” numbers, and the straightforwardly rip-off premium numbers [which is what 0870/1 numbers are].

It is no surprise that the Company that has made a business model of “stuff the customer” – the appalling Ryan Air – makes extensive use of 0870 numbers – and it would do no harm if the cost of every call made to such numbers is clearly flagged at the time of call. Surely a lot better than dicovering it when the bill comes.
Please Which?, make this a part of your campaign.

Robert Laughlan says:
25 June 2012

Try and push for regulations to stop this overcharging on 0844/45 etc telephone numbers. also Hospital overcharged telephone numbers.



Which? appears to be opposed to measures to this effect which are already in hand.

This may be because Which? believes in consumer empowerment, rather than regulatory intervention, as Which? exists “to make individuals as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with in their daily lives”. This leaves no room for bodies such as Ofcom or the NHS, or indeed any agency of the state, being more powerful than any individual citizen, so as to be able to act in the common interest.

Not all of us share these anarchistic objectives! The fair telecoms campaign continues to work for the effective implementation of measures to address the misuse of 084 telephone numbers by NHS bodies and supports the proposals of Ofcom which it believes will achieve the same effect across the board.

Which? is ready to take up only individual cases in relation to NHS GPs and encourages the Ofcom proposals to be overlooked.

We would echo your request for Which? to support the efforts of the fair telecoms campaign, insofar as they advance the interests of consumers. We accept that Which? cannot support the principles of the National Health Service, however we still have much in common.