/ 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):

[nggallery id=1]

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.

Comments
Boblechien says:
21 June 2012

All Premium Rate phone numbers are the devil’s spawn.

How did we get to a situation where we have to pay to speak to a company we are customers of or potential customers?
If these numbers are to continue then they should be available to all and then I will accept the cold calls late into the night.

It is time that the customer was a higher priority than the shareholder (I speak as someone who has a substantial shareholder portfolio). Look after the customer and the shareholder is also looked after.

Now can we all have a K2 Income Tax scheme available to us?

This unfair commercial practice will eventually be outlawed by Article 21 of Directive 2011/83/EU on Consumer Rights, which states “Member States shall ensure that where the trader operates a telephone line for the purpose of contacting him by telephone in relation to the contract concluded, the consumer, when contacting the trader is not bound to pay more than the basic rate”. However, Article 3 states that it shall not apply to certain industries, e.g. healthcare, gambling, financial services and passenger transport services. Which successfully campaigned to have Article 19 of the same directive (concerning card surcharges) implemented early. Why does Which not similarly campaign to have Article 21 implemented early and to omit the excluded industries in Article 3? The full text of the directive is at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:304:0064:0088:EN:PDF

Polly says:
22 June 2012

Sounds just what we need – so please Which get behind it.

I can understand why many companies offer 0800 numbers to potential new customers. They want your business and this is one of many incentives that companies use to attract new business.

No-one should be expected to pay for the time they are kept on hold, after a call is answered. Many of us have patiently waited for the next available member of the customer service team, knowing that the company is making money out of their inefficiency.

No-one should be expected to pay to make a complaint.

It does cost companies money to set up and staff their systems to handle phone calls, so there is a case for some charge, so that those who don’t need to make calls are not subsidising those who do. Perhaps the fairest way would be have a small fixed charge for enquiries from existing customers, but definitely no charge for registering a complaint.

Boblechien says:
21 June 2012

I couldn’t disagree with this more.

I’m happy to pay the carrier (e.g. BT (say)) for use of the phoneline … but to pay the company I am calling is just not acceptable.

Yes there are costs in running a business but these should be part of the companies overall costs. The only acceptable explanation for these charges are when there are Nuisance Calls but that’s life and how do you know it is a nuisance call (I’m taking issue with my own term now!).

How do you contact these companies from abroad?

Just a quick response to nfh above … charge the basic rate, that’s OK but do not take direct payment.

Try and contact a Travelodge to inform them that you are running late and will be arriving late … 0870
Try contacting RyanAir to arrange special (free) requirements …. 0870

It never ends, perhaps I should be charged extra to speak to someone who has received more training and is better able to answer my questions or deal with my issues!

It is also notable how companies now subvert the “saynoto0870” work rounds

Rant over

If all calls are free then prices for goods and services will go up, whether they make frequent calls or not.

My solution to this annoying problem is to pay a higher phone tariff that includes ‘reasonable use’ of 0845 and 0870 numbers. That has made me aware of how many companies use 084 numbers. 🙁

I’m convinced that a small fixed charge for each call is the fairest way. Many people lift the phone rather than reading information they have been given or is readily available on companies’ websites.

Boblechien says:
21 June 2012

I can cope with your soln because I live in the real world as well

However, web-sites are generally poor at supplying the information you and I want rather than the information the company wants to give.

You have a soln to part of my rant …. Thank you for the Therapy.

M Hutchings says:
21 June 2012

0845 numbers are included in many standard packages from fixed lines and are charged at standard rates otherwise. The companies contacted get no cut of the call rates and indeed may have to pay the Service Provider. 0844 numbers are not included in packages and the company receiving the calls may be getting a payment for talking to you. 0870 and 0871 numbers are charged at higher rates and the companies get a cut of the charges for you having the privilege of having to make a complaint. Yodel uses a 0871 number; I had cause to complain to them yesterday and my complaint had two parts, one the way they delivered a package and secondly their use of an 0871 for customer service.

It should be noted that the CEPT which provides guidance and advice on telephone numbering in Europe currently have a Green Paper on the future of this resource. The Consumers Association may wish to provide direct input to this discussion. The Green Paper can be found at http://www.cept.org/files/4591/documents/WG%20NaN%20Green%20Paper%20-%20Long%20Term%20Evolution%20in%20NNA%202012-2022%20-%20Final.pdf

Following a workshop 2 weeks ago, which I attended, further changes to the paper are being made. Many attendees felt that with the exception of 800 numbers other non geographic ranges should wither and die. This would benefit consumers. This paper is likely to form the basis of future European legislation.

Ceri

I regret having to disagree with Which? on three of the points made in your reply above. I trust that they are made from a well informed and carefully considered position.

You will be aware that BT’s inclusion of 0845 calls in its packages is a temporary blip. It is enabled only as a result of BT’s position as the leading provider of 0845 numbers and the fact that current legacy regulation also means that it has little to lose when originating calls to other providers. This move was initially based on a false assumption about the regulatory route that Ofcom was going to take, and will be ended when the actual regulatory changes come into effect.

You support BT’s decision to spread the additional cost of originating calls to 0845 numbers across all subscribers to its packages, rather than only recovering it from those who call these numbers. The fair telecoms campaign opposes this policy. We think it to be unfair in principle and we resent the way in which it can be used to misrepresent the truth about 084 numbers in general. It is disturbing that BT’s strong market position has pushed other providers to follow this perverse move – especially as they do not enjoy the same “advantages” as BT, and therefore have to cross-subsidise more severely. Which? is, of course, perfectly entitled to take a different position.

I must also disagree with your general suggestion that what is called “revenue sharing” is directly related to the actual retail price. You may have based this view on BT’s current attempt to introduce termination rates that are conditional on retail prices. This is the subject of an on-going dispute, and relates to 0845, not 0844/3, numbers. I would be interested to know if you have any evidence to show that BT is passing the benefit of the higher termination rates it levies on some OCPs onto its business customers; I understand that it is not doing so.

We find it difficult to take sides on this dispute, as it is largely over the question of which telco takes the benefit of excessive “access charges”. Implementation of the Ofcom proposals will represent a far more effective way of addressing the issue from the consumer perspective.

It will however do nothing to make the reality of “revenue sharing” approach the simplistic concept which is misleadingly implied by the name. Your opposition to the Ofcom proposals may derive from your apparent endorsement of the simplistic view. I must however question whether this position validates your attempt to mislead your members into believing that “revenue sharing” means providing a share of whatever revenue is derived from from the retail call price with the person called.

Thirdly, I disagree with your suggestion that the way in which the benefit of the enhanced termination rates is passed on makes any significant difference from the consumer perspective. The fair telecoms campaign sees no difference between the “cashback” benefit of “revenue share” and the discounted charge for services which applies in most cases, certainly with 0845 numbers. The denial of “income”, as opposed to financial benefit, is one of the ways in which users of 084 seek to falsely justify and disguise their decision to take subsidy at the expense of callers. We are therefore very disappointed to find that Which? apparently supports them in this.

I cannot see what useful purpose could be served by you “delving” into the precise detail of the undoubtedly complex commercial relationships between users of 0845 numbers and their telephone service providers. We believe that the forthcoming obligation to declare the “Service Charge” will address this point perfectly well and are very disappointed that you do not support this proposal.

The fair telecoms campaign is generally pleased to have Which? campaigning alongside us on these issues. We must however oppose many of the positions which you take, when they undermine our objectives and contribute to the public misunderstanding which is exploited by those who we see as damaging the public interest, including that of consumers in general.

You are, of course, perfectly entitled to follow your own narrow course through these matters in pursuit of your specific objectives. Inevitably this leads you to use your significant public influence to oppose our positions, undermine our objectives and promote public misunderstanding. I must however graciously thank you for providing an open public platform on which we can discuss our disagreements.

I will therefore take this opportunity to repeat my strong disappointment at your refusal to even mention the current Ofcom proposals and the forthcoming adoption of the provisions contained in Article 21 of the Consumer Rights Directive. I believe that your members are entitled to know why you oppose these measures, which are intended to address the very specific points that you wish to see discussed in this conversation and are also the subject of other Which? campaigns.

The fair telecoms campaign is urging people to express their support for the Ofcom proposals during the remaining days of the consultation, which closes next Wednesday, 27 June – see tiny.cc/FTRespOfcom. You are entitled to oppose these proposals and redirect the media onto other issues at a time when we had hoped to draw attention to the need for consumer power to be exercised on a matter of public interest.

In the spirit of an open conversation, it would be helpful to know why you hold this position.

Companies should always be forced to give their customers a standard geo. telephone number for dealing with any issues associated with goods and services that they are already paying for directly or indirectly. Many call packages allow free standard geo. calls but will charge for 0845 etc. and it’s amazing that companies will go out of their way sometimes to remove any possibility of using a standard geo. number to call them (one put the phone down on me recently when I got through to the main switch rather than paying through the nose on an 0845 number). What’s worse is that the websites for many of these companies (which you tend to be pushed towards initially) are so limited in what they can provide to deal with queries and correct issues without resorting to a phone call (in which you will probably be in a queue or on hold for a good chunk of the time).

Otherwise it’s a question of name and shame and it will be worthwhile putting some costs to the consumer (in terms of time and phone bills) against these companies and their activities.

Boblechien says:
21 June 2012

Thelm
You are starting me off again.
Absolutly agree

Rob says:
25 June 2012

**Companies should always be forced to give their customers a standard geo. telephone number for dealing with any issues associated with goods and services that they are already paying for directly or indirectly.**

Don’t forget that 03 numbers are charged at the same rate as 01 and 02 numbers. This applies from landlines and from mobiles. Additionally, 03 numbers can be used in inclusive minutes on both landlines and mobiles.

Article 21 will address this situation.

Thanks very much for this exposé – most enlightening and a real service to consumers. Whether it will shame any of the bad companies is a moot point. I hope Which? is able to get good publicity for this survey.

In the long run, companies that have bad reputations will perform poorly, have higher costs, and therefore higher charges, and their competitive position and profitability will decline. Unfortunately, the long run never seems to come to pass because of the embedded nature of customer loyalty, contractual traps and exit penalties, and basic inertia. So we have regulators to promote competition and set standards of good practice – and yet it takes an independent privately-funded organisation like Which? to unmask these faults and bring pressure to bear on them.

I agrree with wavechange on the need for a universal basic charge for all contacts to service companies.

The bigger picture lurking behind these statistics is the impenetrable maze of call charges that have emerged in consequence of the denationalisation of telecoms. It is little wonder that people are totally confused. It’s made worse when the call is put on hold because “all our operators are busy” [code for “we don’t employ enough staff”]. Some companies are behaving better on this when they “are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment” by offering a free ring-back service – well, I assue it’s free or do they reverse the charges?

At the margin it probably pays to use a landline, especially if you’re also paying for broadband in the line rental.

Derek Francis says:
21 June 2012

Of course what this practice in effect does is provide a perverse incentive for a company to provide a poor service.

In addition we all know how long it takes to actually speak with a real person when we are making a complaint, having to listen to the various services we may be interested in etc, but the bottom line is – why should they hurry to repond? The longer we wait the more they make. They’ve got us all ways.
It is disgusting.

When I worked for RBS Insurance many moons ago they had 0800 numbers for new business but 0845 or 0870 for existing customers. Throw in the point that people often call from mobiles (particularly when calling to make a claim) then the cost goes up even more. Also when you include that during peak times the call volumes are high and people have to hold longer.. it just gets worse and worse.

This would generate quite a lot of complaints from existing (loyal) customers, which would then take up more time to record whilst more people are on hold.

Solution: scrap 0845/0870 numbers for loyal customers!

I used to frequently give out the local rate equivalent number when I was there in order to try and help people.

As a consumer it annoys me so much because I only have a mobile, so recently when I have been calling my bank frequently, it is costing me a lot of money.

There is a name for loyal customers. Mugs!

I was told this many moons ago when the TSB was a stand alone bank, after being an account holder for 20 years I walked in one day and asked for a small loan. Instead of the usual seeing the manager having a cup of tea and a chat, before he called a teller in with the cash, then a handshake and off I go.
I was confronted with a new manager, he told me that I would now have to be checked etc…. I responded, but I have been here for 20 years and am a customer of good standing, his frank reply has stayed with me.
“We don’t care about that any more, we are now treating everyone the same, being a long standing customer only means you are more likely to buy our polices [they didn’t call them products then] and we can treat you a little worse than our new customers because you will stay with us. The old way of doing business is dead today it’s all about raking in the money, sorry but the world is changing”.
Honesty from the banking community is rare, that lad opened my eyes, I still have an account with LLoyds TSB today.

John C says:
21 June 2012

Company that have changed their number over the years to those numbers that cost us to call! I believe is a totally disgraceful practice. Why are they allowed to get away with it? Even with call packages that you get from say BT, it doesnt cover those rip-off numbers. When will they be outlawed?

John C says:
21 June 2012

Oh sorry typos, LOL. Companies that have charged us over the years to call their costly phone numbers, I believe is a totally disgraceful practice. Why are they allowed to get away with it? Even with call packages that you get from say BT, it doesnt cover those rip-off numbers. When will they be outlawed? I think the Watchdog that oversees them should put a halt to this practice and force the companies involved to give us back our money. Just like the banks being told to pay back miss sold PPI.

I’ll use either an alternative number from saynoto0870 or the one they provide for those who are ‘phoning from abroad’

This is just another example of who how Rip Off Britain works. Sadly I can’t see these companies changing their tune as everything is about revenue generation these days.

It’s not only Britain. This rip-off exists in other large European countries such as France and Germany. French callers are often ripped off much more than British callers. That’s why the EU has introduced Article 21 of Directive 2011/83/EU on Consumer Rights.

These 0845 numbers dont’t just apply to business. I have noticed on a number of ocassions if there is a worldwide disaster it is not uncommon to see these nubers used for donations to various appeals. Have we sunk to the stage when if even giving charity we have to be charged these rates its digusting. You wont get me donating to these organisations that use these numbers unless they offer a local or national number.

If you’re giving to charity, you should do so online or by bank transfer in order to avoid the need for a human to process your donation. Then there’s no need for a phone number at all.

Whilst I must thank Which? for raising some of the issues which are of concern to the fair telecoms campaign, I must draw attention to some aspects of the introductory remarks and raise questions about the positions taken by Which?

** 1 **
Why does this item not include a reference to the response from Which? to the Ofcom consultation on proposals for revisions to regulations which will address many of the points made here?

This consultation ends next Wednesday, 27 June. Without many simple and straightforward responses from those who represent or reflect the consumer interest, this highly complex consultation is likely to be dominated by those who wish to retain the status quo. We may assume that this includes Which?

The fair telecoms campaign has published a simple briefing on the key issues – see tiny.cc/FTRespOfcom. Unlike Which?, we encourage positive support for these proposals.

Rather than simply chatting and moaning, and encouraging use of expensive telephone numbers for initial enquiries, those who are genuinely concerned about these issues will be engaged in encouraging and supporting the changes to regulation that will resolve many of these concerns.

** 2 **
Why is there no reference to the Consumer Rights Directive which must be incorporated into UK legislation by the end of 2013. Article 21 is specifically drafted to address precisely the situation being covered here.

Again it would appear that Which? is not interested in remedies.

** 3 **
It is a little worrying to see a bank which levies a “Service Charge” on both new and existing customers being honoured with the coveted number 1 position in a Which? comparison table – for that reason. Granting position number 3, rather than position 8, in a table of 11 by virtue of the initial letter of the name of a bank also seems a rather odd way of providing a comparison.

** 4 **
More worrying is the implicit suggestion that BT customers pay £1.72 for a 20 minute call to a 01/02/03 number and that Virgin Media customers pay £2.13. Using the penalty charge imposed on those who breach the terms of their chosen plan as a basis for presenting costs is the way that those who misuse 084 numbers commonly seek to falsely justify their position. It is disturbing to see Which? engaging in this same misrepresentation.

Both BT and Virgin Media confirm that their respective “Unlimited Anytime” and “Talk Anytime” plans are the most widely used overall. For those who actually make landline calls before 7pm on weekdays, this will be even more true! Virgin Media confirms that the vast majority of weekday daytime calls are made under the terms of inclusive packages. This must be expected to be true for all other landline providers.

There is a consumer point to be made by highlighting the excessive level of (unregulated) penalty charge for “out of plan” calls, but it has nothing to do with the issue being addressed. When this is set against the lower (regulated) BT charge for calling some NTS numbers (including some 0871), it can only serve to mislead, even though this perverse situation does apply to a relatively small number of people.

** 5 **
Where is the reference to the option to use 03 numbers, where advancing call routing facilities are required and / or a national service is being offered? Calls to 03 numbers are charged on the same basis as calls to geographic numbers in all cases. Those with a memorable 084 number, or tied into a supply contract, can migrate to the equivalent 034 number at any point. It is likely that 03 numbers will take the place of many 084, and even some 080, numbers once the Ofcom proposals are implemented.

Where a geographic number may not be appropriate, immediate adoption of 03 numbers should be encouraged, ahead of the revised Ofcom regulations being implemented and the compulsion which will apply once the Consumer Rights Directive is incorporated into UK legislation.

** also **
It is perhaps unfair to have a gentle go at Which? about its own commercial activities. I am however regularly reminded that Which? thinks it worthwhile to spend money on a TV advert to promote a free publication. One may assume that this is done in order to recruit subscribers, who will then pay for subsequent publications. I am not sure if Which? sees this approach as penalising loyalty, as it has remained loyal to this “loss leader” marketing approach for very many years!

I note that at least one Which? representative prefers the “non-discriminatory approach”, whereby presumably Which? would charge for its Internet Guide and offer a 0845, rather than 0800, number on which to request it.

It is interesting to note that now “The Big Switch” has finished, Which? is now in favour of Loyalty, rather than Switching. Will this switch of policy perhaps be reversed at some point in the future or do we have to ask if Which? is likely to remain loyal to either of these policy positions.

Peter says:
22 June 2012

Which? should be campaigning in particular against the use of 084 numbers by public services such as HMRC and the NHS including hospitals and GP surgeries.

Samia Brewer says:
22 June 2012

I think it is a disgrace that Citizens Advice Bureau which prides itself that it provides a service which is free to access, insists on using expensive 0844 numbers for clients who want to call them. I understand that 15% of households are mobile only which only makes these calls more and more expensive. I have complained to them but have been told that they need the income.

My national health dentist AF Clough in Chelmsford also can only be accessed via an 0844 number.

Everyone using these numbers should be forced to also provide a landline number to access their services.

Michael Airey says:
22 June 2012

I greatly object to my bank [Barclays, with which I operate online accounts] advising me to call a premium-rated number when a declared technical problem that is their responsibility prevents me accessing archived statements when I need to.

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

To true, There ALL At It, Gas , Electric Suppliers, Goverment Council Offices, Every Company, You Can Name, Then It Press this button press that button, Then listen to Music, @ 30 minutes at a time, EVEN The Social Security DOES IT, Then even if you get to speak to a Human What do you get, INSULTS
Because when you want to Complain, They dont want to Know, So They INSULT You So You Will Hang Up, HOW MUCH HAS THAT COST THE CUSTOMER, These Companiesa Are Lower Than A Snakes Belly, AND As Much Use As A Chocolate Fire Guard, Just Total Legalised THIEVES
Scum Of This Planet, & Why Do They Get Away With It, BECAUSE We Have Goverments Who Do The Same, DONT Care A Toss, Just Go To Sleep In The Westminster Discussion Sessions, While The So Called Leaders Of This Country Just Argue Like Babies

jeff travis says:
22 June 2012

0844/0845/0870 etc
just go to this website saynoto0870.com

simples

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

We Know That, But They Use Other Numbers Aswell
& You Still Get The Same Results AS ABOVE