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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.

Comments
Richard's mobile says:
22 June 2012

If you don’t understand charges to 084x and 087x numbers then try this one.
When is a call to a free-phone number not free? When you call from a mobile!

This REALLY annoys me. I see a burst water main. The water company pay for their 0800 number to give their customers a free-phone leak line, but I have to pay if I call from a mobile.

IT’S NOT RIGHT! The mobile phone companies are not playing fair.

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

To True Mate, They Saw The Loopholes, With Mobile Phones, And Rip Off Everybody
They Are Just Like Loan Sharks, THIEVES!!!!!

Mobile phone users may be able to call 0800 numbers free in future:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17610232

I don’t know if there have been any more recent developments.

I have sympathy for mobile users but I wish they would realise how much it costs to return their calls from a landline or PAYG mobile. I throw this in as another example of lack of awareness of call costs.

Tim O says:
22 June 2012

Non-geographic (0845 etc.) nos. were introduced when there was a lesser charge for a local call than a national calls.This no longer applies as very few Telcos differentiate between the 2.

Companies should simply give out a normal phone number. Problem solved. We would all know where we stand.

Roy says:
22 June 2012

I use the web-site sanoto0870 to find alternative numbers for any firm that I have to call with what I know would be along quesry. If there is a 0800 alternative (for new customers or what ever, then I play dumb, phone up and ask for a transfer to the appropriate department. This usually saves time as well as money.

Roy says:
22 June 2012

Typo change ‘quesry’ to ‘query’

Just go to the website “Say no to 0870” and you will usually be able to find an alternative geographjcal number..

Graham Cox says:
22 June 2012

Bit mad that this was not suggested in the article. Indeed it still can be.

In case it was missed, mobile phone often induce free geographic number but not 0844 / 0845.

All praise to NPower

richie gray says:
22 June 2012

sky is the worst costs a fortune to phone them

Lynne says:
22 June 2012

I often find that companies have two numbers (one 0800 and one expensive) but they connect to the same call centre. So, instead of dialling the expensive number they’ve given me, I try their free number first – most times I can still get straight through to the section I want. It’s always worth a try – at worst you waste a few minutes of your time.

These shared revenue number that companies insist their customers use are a total rip-off and only justifiable in very limited cases. If a geographical number is not available ( try the number for overseas customers ) I always send a letter. Cost me a little extra but it gives the recipient a logistical headache.

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

Has One Tried Several Of These SAY NO TOs, We Have Many Times, But These Companies Just Block Them as Soon As They Know People Are Using Them, & Many Times You Will Get!!!!
The Number You Are Calling Has Not Been Recognised, OR yoiu will get a continuous tone
As Not Known Number
These Companies Know ALL The Tricks & Use Them They Spend Thousands Of Pounds, To Get To Know The Loop Holes AT OUR COST

john bennett says:
22 June 2012

Whilst I feel that my Co-Op Bank 0845 lines provide a very convenient service,that I am quite happy to pay for. I do not find my Doctors 0844 line in any way nearly as helpful.
The Co-Op almost always provides an instant and proffessional resolution to my call with minimum waiting time,courteous staff and a bit of friendly chit-chat.Well worth paying for !
I have never been able to get straight through to my Doctors receptionists without lenghthy dollops of options,pauses and having to listen to some music. Quite often when I call, I am not really in the mood to hum along, sing or dance. Then it is pot luck with regard to the receptionist you get.
We used to have a pleasant mother & daughter team that could make disappointment easy on the ear. Mum passed on ,and now daughter is out-numbered by several robotic box-ticking humanoids. They will do anything possible not to give an quick appointment on the phone,no matter how sick the person may be. They require the person to attend the surgery before a set time to try their luck at getting a slot that may be a few hours later. Not a lot of consideration is given to the distance they have to travel, or their ability to do so. Then people pay through the nose for their call ! Perhap Which could pay more attention to this. I wonder how many poor/helpless people just give up and die when trying to overcome this “service”.

Mike Suttill says:
22 June 2012

Don’t just target banks and companies – also look at government departments who use 0845 and 087 numbers for enquiries.

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

Hi Mike, Just Posted that Earlier, See My Report
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

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Posted 22 June 2012 at 1:11 pm

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Bob says:
22 June 2012

0845 numbers are used for people in the greatest need. I have recently had a serious operation and while trying to recover had to phone to arrange disability benefit after several times being put on hold I eventually got through and had to answer so many questions the call lasted 25min. when I received my phone bill it had cost just under four pounds to claim.I eventually received seven pounds in disability benefit but in real terms only just over three pounds.I think it is disgusting that a service that is meant to help people uses an 0874 number.

Julia Clark says:
22 June 2012

I’d just like to support comments commenting government departments eg HMRC. Can I just add Student Finance England – I have to phone them because they keep sending computer generated letters which contradict each other – then I have to sit through endless messages telling me about the website (which doesn’t answer my questions) and press buttons before I finally get through – by which time I am seriously worked up. Part of the problem is that you often have to hold for so long which racks up the cost. Many people phoning these lines are already struggling financially and it just seems to be taking the micky.

Hi time these companies learnt it’s not good business practice not to look after their loyal customers! It’s us that pay their wages, therefore stop charging for calls made to them immediately!

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

Hi Eileen, Another True Comment, Thats Why So Many Companies Are In The Quagmire
But The Fat Cats Dont Give A Toss, They Live Abroad, Like Richard Branson For Example

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

Exactly Correct Julia, But They Do Not Care One Iota, How Much You May Have,
They Are On Probably 6 Times More Salary Than You, Probably More
Thats Why The Could Not Care Less, Just Get Paid For Assing Every Body About As Much As They Can, But They Are To Busy!!!!! Sending Jokes Around The Offices, Yes Its True, We Know Some That Work There

Hello George, just a kind word. Please try not to write with capital letters at the start of every word as it makes your comments hard to read, meaning you’ll be less likely to get responses from other commenters. For more, please read our commenting guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines Thanks.

George Tiddy says:
22 June 2012

I see no one has made any comments on the following, How many times are Customers / People Recieve Telephone Calls, & the number is witheld ?? BUT When you ring them they want yours!!!
They want your Full Name But Wont Give Theirs, (Data Protection) Where Has The Customers Data Protection Rights Gone?? Then You Get A Name, Example”Julie” Who says Ring Me If You Need Anything Else, & Tells You To Ring This Number, You Will Get Direct To Me, Rubbish, & Lies, SO You Ring & Get Some One Else, Then Ask For Julie, They Ask Which Julie, We Have Loads Of Staff Called Julie, How The Hell Can You Give A Surname, When You Are not Given One??
Its Just Another UNDERHAND & DEVIOUS Way That They Devise, To Agravate Every Body
THEN You Say A Wrong Word ,,,,, The Phone Is Put Down On You, You Paid Again For Non Existent Customer Service, As Usual

One of my petty pleasures is telling local authorities and utility companies, that I cannot give them details of my tenants as it would breach the data protection act.
I have been told on several occasions, oh but that doesn’t apply to us……

Stephen Mcinally says:
22 June 2012

I despise these make money for you numbers and would urge everyone to try and find a geographical number a excellent website for this is: http://www.saynoto0870.com/

davesuffolk says:
22 June 2012

What’s the difference between phoning a company to sort out a problem or going in to see them? Both require staff and both are a cost of the business. Are we going to have to pay for every action a company takes to deal with its customers – want to buy a paper sir, that’s £1 plus the service charge? All these charges are just an excuse for getting in a bit more cash, and are charged to loyal customers because they have no choice once they have bought in to the product. It’s cynical, money-grabbing and plain wrong!

Dave Lindsay says:
22 June 2012

The fair telecoms campaign is interested in seeing that positive steps are taken to alleviate this issue. The current Ofcom consultation closes on Wednesday, and we encourage the public to give support to the proposed approach (see our website for a guide). I am surprised that the report by Which? about customer loyalty and 08 numbers makes no mention of it.

fairtelecoms believes that the proposed “unbundled” charging approach will bring clarity, making it clear to see where companies are benefitting from a Service Charge of, say 5 pence per minute. This in itself should act to dissuade those from using 084 / 087 numbers, where there can be no justification for such a charge.

Users of 084 / 087 numbers should be switching to 03 numbers so as not to cost callers a premium, and they should do it now and not wait until they are forced to declare their Service Charge.

We encourage those with an interest to register your support for our campaign by visiting http://www.fairtelecoms.org.uk/supporters

It really is time that 0845 and 0844 numbers were discontinued. The so called “lo-call” name is a complete misnomer.

0870 and 0871 numbers have always clearly been money raisers, and it speaks volumes about any company that they use them. I regard it as a good reason to take your custom elsewhere – and tell them why yo are doing so.

Rob says:
25 June 2012

“Lo-call” or “local” rate when used to describe 084 numbers is factually incorrect.

The Advertising Standards Authority can and will take action if you send in a complaint.