/ 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.

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.


Thanks for the clarification, I had been both surprised and disappointed by the lack of any reference to the Ofcom proposal for the “unbundled tariff”.

Can you perhaps go further by indicating:
a) if Which? supports the “unbundled tariff” proposal? and
b) if Which? believes that it is worthwhile for members and others to indicate their personal support by responding to the consultation which ends on Wednesday?

We fear that so large a consultation and so comprehensive a list of questions will discourage simple statements of support to represent the consumer interest.

(I hope I give sufficient references for my personal name to be known, although the conversation does not offer a link from the nickname to the profile information provided)

Eric says:
4 July 2012

Which? could strike a blow against premium-rate and revenue-sharing numbers by not publishing them.

If a consumer sees a list of vendors in the magazine, s/he is much more likely to deal with one that has a number published than one where the phone entry just says “revenue-sharing” or “premium”.

Since Which? is influential in consumers’ buying choices, this would lead many vendors to provide CA with the underlying geographical number, which would be a real service to members.

richie gray says:
25 June 2012

age concern use o845 numbers they are there to represent pensioners not milk them

Rosie says:
26 June 2012

The Coop bank is now changing from 0845 to 0844, presumably because so many people can now get 0845 numbers free (even if by paying a monthly fee to their phone providers).
For a supposedly ethical and moral company like the Coop, I think it’s absolutely disgusting and, if they continue to do this, I can see their loyal Coop customers (not only banking but also food, energy, insurance, funeral plans, etc) just taking their business elsewhere. I’m certainly thinking of it, especially after receiving phone bills for over £10 extra per month just for a few calls to find out what my pending items are because Coop bank’s computer systems are so bad and out of date that they don’t show the true available balance, then having to sit through numerous menu options till I can speak to a human. (And even if you get texts to tell you the balance including pending items, you don’t get a list of the pending items and some of them are being double counted and are already on the online statement ..). The other thing the Coop bank do is send statements out with items to the same organisation in value, not transaction time, order – absolute nonsense and it makes it very hard to keep a check on your bank balance!
Back to the phone numbers, though. Coop, you really need to get back to normal landline number or, better still, an 0800 number or we’ll all be voting with out feet and going to banks with better online systems and not caring about ethics or morals!

I believe I am able to share the fact that the co-op bank has been provided with information by the fair telecoms campaign that has caused it to look into this issue a little more closely and perhaps question information provided to it by its telephone service provider. I cannot say any more at this stage.

I can however urge fellow members of the cooperative movement to express their disgust at the ill-conceived decision to move from 0845 to 0844 and the wholly improper retention of 0845 numbers directly to the bank and through all appropriate channels. (I do however note that the total opposition of Which? to the cooperative principle means that there are unlikely to be many reading this conversation.)

Hello NHSpatient, where did you get the impression that we were in ‘total’ opposition to the cooperative principle? We recently gave Co-operative Energy our ‘positive change award’ and the Which? Awards, and Co-operative products often appear in our top provider tables. Please try not to state your opinion of another company as a matter of fact as it can result in misunderstandings and confusion for other readers. Thanks.

Dan B says:
26 July 2012

Fully agree. Very disappointing for the coop/Smile.

Arhie Jones says:
26 June 2012

This is a no win situation as long as people use mobile phones with there extortionate rates and all the companies, corporations, and a corrupt government whatever party. The populace in general is complacent and not just about this fraud but all the others too going on in the so called western democracies. People must be willing to stand in sufficient numbers to effect change.

George Tiddy says:
26 June 2012

Hi WHICH, How about takling another item??
Royal Mail Staff Forging Signatures??
we get several parcels every week, Mostly to be signed for But we never sign for them
When we check the RM site, we see that they have been signed for, But it is NOT our signature
so now we have RM Delivery Persons FORGING Our Signatures
what next, They sign & Keep them ????

Errrrr… what has this got to do with phone charges??

And, reading your mail, you say you are receiving the parcels, no evidence that they are being signed for by someone else, and stolen.

So, you’d prefer that you get one of those horrid cards “you were out” and have to traipse to a Collection centre to get the parcel?

I’d be happy to think my mail man had the initiative to sign the docket and leave the parcel, rather than give me a long retun trip.

I think it might be useful to recall that way back in the 1st place when “lo-call” was introduced, local calls cost about 4p a minute, and “long distance” [remember those?] calls about 11p.

So the 0845 number at approx 4p was cheaper if the company you were calling was outside your local area – actually a “service” to customers of a sort.

But how on earth has this concept not acknowledged that such distinctions are history, and that now many people can call “long distance” for “free” on an inclusive tariff, and anyway at the same cost as down the road.

I wonder if the managements of companies, doctors surgeries, etc, etc, have even have bothered to check out the actual costs? I rather suspect not.

Nowadays, the “cheap” non-geographic numbers are those beginning 03 and they also count towards inclusive allowances in call packages on mobiles and on landlines. If you have to pay something for the call, it’s exactly the same rate as whatever you would have paid for an 01 or 02 number. This applies whether the call is being made from a landline or mobile phone.

0845 numbers are expensive when called from mobiles and from some landlines. The call price includes a Service Charge around 2p or 3p/min. The call appears to be cheap when called from a BT line but it’s a trick. BT cross-subsidises the Service Charge from your monthly call package price, with these calls then qualifying for the inclusive allowance. Ordinarily these numbers would not be inclusive.

0870 numbers remain expensive from mobiles while some landline networks have allowed these numbers within inclusive allowances since 2009. There’s currently no Service Charge. Revenue sharing is not allowed.

Local and National Rate were long ago and no longer apply. Ofcom should soon confirm the Service Charge will remain on 0845 numbers and will re-appear on 0870 numbers. These numbers will then be almost indistinguishable from 0844 and 0871 numbers.

The Consumer Rights Directive is about to pass into law. Many users of 084 and 087 numbers will be moving to the 03 range where calls are cheap from landlines and from mobiles.

The call price and inclusiveness of 0845 and 0870 will become irrelevant. Calling businesses will mainly occur via 03 numbers. Users of 084 and 087 numbers will be seen to have made a choice in deliberately imposing extra charges on callers. Ofcom will require them to declare the Service Charge part of the call price so that consumers are clear as to the exact nature of the arrangement.

Thanks for all the explanation in your posts and for the positive news, fonetic.

GPs were supposed to move from expensive numbers some time ago, but progress has been very slow. Do you know the deadline for companies moving from 087 and 084 numbers and whether this is likely to be met?

The Consumer Rights Directive must become law by December 2013.

The provisions within that law apply from June 2014.

As it’s the implementation of an EU directive, neither of those dates are up for discussion.

George Tiddy says:
26 June 2012

Author: richjenn13
Comment: From richgenn13
Errrrr… what has this got to do with phone charges??

And, reading your mail, you say you are receiving the parcels, no evidence that they are being signed for by someone else, and stolen.

So, you’d prefer that you get one of those horrid cards “you were out” and have to traipse to a Collection centre to get the parcel?

I’d be happy to think my mail man had the initiative to sign the docket and leave the parcel, rather than give me a long retun trip.

Rather a foolish statement By richjenn13
What would you do if a parcel you were expecting, Was signed for “Not By You” & went missing,?
Not A Leg To Stand On, You Appear To be condoning FRAUD

Hello George, your comments are off the topic of premium phone numbers. If you would like to send us a tip for a new Conversation, please use our contact us form: https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us/ Thanks.

Alison says:
2 July 2012

I took out house insurance with John Lewis, hoping that their reputation would make up for my distrust of Axa, which is the company they use. I was not impressed to be told that, having taken out the insurance online, I had to phone an 0845 number to renew it – they (Axa) don’t offer the facility to do this online. Why not? This is exactly the same discrimination against current customers as not giving them an 0800 number to renew. I complained to John Lewis, but it was Axa who ‘processed’ my complaint!

Good point Alison. I’ve had the same experience over travel insurance. John Lewis make out that they have to ask some particular questions before they can renew the policy so you are required to telephone them on the 0845 number . . . be nice if they rang me! With the home insurance I just send them a cheque [although I would prefer to put it on the card but to do that I have to ring . . . yes, you’ve guessed . . .].

Arhie Jones says:
5 July 2012

Use http://www.saynoto0870.com/ because this will not change to much money is to be made and it is fraud. Notice when all these companies, organisations what your business they provide free phone numbers

Roger says:
16 July 2012

There is much confusion over 08** numbers as your correspondence to date shows. For some, a “low cost” 08** number is sometimes cheaper than an 01 number, for others it is not, and unscrupulous companies are exploiting this confusion. Surely, the answer is simple ; make all companies quote both an 08** and an 01 number. That way the customer can choose. Surely, freedom of choice is every customer`s right.


I fear that you may be a victim of the confusion that is propagated to defend the indefensible. 084 numbers are purely for the purpose of imposing a Service Charge on the caller for the benefit of the company they are calling. Those who try to deny this at present will shortly be compelled to declare their Service Charge by Ofcom, or prohibited from imposing it by the implementation of the provisions of the Consumer Rights Directive.

Ofcom will also be removing the present partial regulations on BT, which prevent it from adding any charge of its own on calls to 084/087/09 numbers. One perverse effect of this regulation is seen by the fact that the Service Charge on 084 and some 087 numbers is now less than the unregulated penalty charge which BT imposes on those who choose to breach the terms of their selected Call Plan when making weekday daytime calls to 01/02/03 numbers.

Consumers are free to choose an inappropriate Call Plan, and thereby incur a penalty charge when making weekday daytime calls to 01/02/03 numbers. It makes no sense to suggest that they must therefore be provided with the option to pay a Service Charge, because that could make the call cheaper under the present perverse circumstances.

I strongly disagree with your suggestion that companies must either impose a Service Charge or meet the cost of the call themselves, by using a 08** number. This would serve only to complicate the situation further. The normal situation for companies that require a non-geographic number is to use a 03 number.

I think it is nonsense to suggest that every company must be compelled to offer alternatives to suit whatever odd situations may arise as a result of the wide choice of telephone tariffs, e.g. a number on each of the mobile networks. With the amount of choice that exists in the market for telephone call services at present, it is absurd to think that callers would invariably make the correct choice from a list of half a dozen alternative numbers. Given the amount of misinformation around at present (including phrases like “low cost 08 number”) many would make the wrong choice when offered only two options.

If companies can justify the imposition of a Service Charge, they can choose 084, 087 or 09 numbers – depending on the level of Service Charge they wish to impose. If not, they must now move to 03, if they need a non-geographic number, or switch to a geographic number if that best suits their needs.

For those who offer 080 numbers the situation is a little different at the moment. Under present circumstances, they should temporarily offer a 03 (or properly configured geographic) number as an alternative for the benefit of callers from mobiles, unless they have special arrangements in place. They should also give serious consideration to what they are going to do when they will have to meet the full cost of all calls to 080 numbers.

Because the vast majority of contract callers (landline and mobile) incur no marginal cost for a call to a 03 number, the money spent on 080 numbers may largely be lining the pockets of the telephone companies. The only real benefit of 080 numbers is to those who have no contract in place (e.g. PAYG callers), or those who choose to breach the terms of the contract they have. I suspect that many of those who currently use 080 numbers will switch to 03.

The “choice” issues that need to be addressed are the choice of companies to impose a Service Charge (by use of a 084/087/09 number) and that of callers in choosing the correct calling plan. Choice can only be used properly when all parties understand the implications of the choice they make. We are now in a situation where call charges for calls to “ordinary” numbers do not apply to most callers.

Choice will be enhanced when Ofcom permits BT to choose what it charges for originating calls (as all other providers are able to do) and enables companies to readily choose to accept the full cost of incoming calls from all phones. This will make the situation much clearer.

Implementation of the provisions of the Consumer Rights Directive will remove the right of companies to choose to offset the cost of enquiries from existing customers through a call Service Charge. They will however retain the right to choose to levy declared Service Charges under other circumstances. Awareness of the Service Charge will enable callers to choose whether or not to make such calls.

We are moving in the right direction – we do not need more confusion!

Eric says:
21 July 2012

I agree with NHS Patient that companies should have the right to publish a 03 non-geographic number rather than an 01 or 02 geographical number. However, I don’t believe they should withhold the geographical number unless it is one of a set whose selection is based on the caller’s location.

One of the real problems here is that it is the FOURTH digit that determines the cost of an 084 or 087 call! Ofcom tried to close the scam whereby companies were publishing 0870 numbers and getting paid to answer, by removing the revenue-sharing aspects of 0870 and 0845 numbers. But for some reason, they allowed very similar numbers to be introduced that did provide revenue-sharing — 0871 and 0844. This seemed likely to confuse, and has succeeded brilliantly in doing so. So many (if not most) bundles have no charge for 0845 or 0870 up to 59 minutes, but all carriers charge for the ones where they have to pass money to the called party.

I still don’t understand why all numbers where the called party gets paid are not in the 09 range. The third digit could be used to distinguish cheapish from exorbitant calls (and if hat means some premium services have to change numbers, tough!).

It’s the first six digits after the zero that determines the price of the call; e.g. 0844 655 is a different price to 0844 656.

Revenue sharing was removed from 0870 in 2009. It will be returning in 2015. Those calls will no longer be inclusive on the small number of landlines that currently offer this.

Revenue sharing hasn’t been removed from 0845. There’s still a 2p/min Service Charge within the 0845 call price. BT currently chooses to subsidise these calls from the monthly package fee, hence confusing the situation by making it appear these are “cheap” calls. Mobile operators charge much the same for 0845 as they do for 0844, thereby exposing the reality.

Numbers beginning 09 are subject to additional Premium Rate Services regulation. Ofcom felt there was a need for a similar revenue sharing scheme, but with lower levels of Service Charge and which would not be subject to PRS. They allocated 0844 and 0871 for that, and more recently 0843, 0872 and 0873. Subsequently, 0871, 0872 and 0873 have been placed under PRS.

John Knox says:
23 July 2012

I was on the phone to Santander earlier. 3 minutes and 20 seconds to find out the office was no closed. Why couldn’t they tell me that right at the start? The answer – they are profiting from their phone line!

Dan B says:
26 July 2012

I called Smile to arrange a single funds transfer from my landline (Virgin media). At least 10 minutes in a queue before I got to speak to anyone, then put on hold for lengthy period of time for him to clarify something with his manager. In total 23 mintes to simply make one transfer from one Smile account to anoter. The bill for this was over £3.

An earlier call that week to clarify one question on a process involved, again extensive time stuck in a queue, resulting in 13 minute call and a cost of about £1.75. So two calls in total from a landline for what should have been quick easy tasks cost nearly £5.00. I have complained to Smile but they just said as no error had been made they have nothing to say. Disappointing at best.

Dave says:
29 August 2012

Great to see yet another article completell missing the point that the consumer will often be charged as much or more for 0800… new customer or old , because the mobile networks milk this to the max.

I would love to know how you expect the companies to publish more information about what the consumer will be charged when it is entirely dependent on the call package / method the person uses… which in the deregulated telcoms market could be anything from free to a lot!

This article made a great headline, missed the point and then wanders off down the same track that Money Box Live has a habbit of doing. The Mobile networks must howl laughing everytime they see another report like this

As for the Ofcom proposal… it is a yapping dog with no teeth, it will make tariffs more complicated to consumers who base their choice on type of phone, minutes & texts… anyone who believes it will make a difference hasn’t bothered to understand the first things about how a consumer picks their phone / mobile package

Ofcom should instead put their grand idea to bed, force the mobiles to do 0800 as free, 084 as same caost as landline plus a small margin and then get off their backsides and do something to the fraud the continues in 070 (see SOCA response to consultation)

Very unimpressed, cheap headline that could have done so much more

Ceri is close to the essential point here, but has sadly just missed it. One very important point she fails to make is that presently calls from mobiles to 03 numbers are cheaper than calls to both 080 and 084 numbers, indeed they are generally free (see my footnote).

Noting the position of Which? – I present the position of the fair telecoms campaign. I hope that those who are following the conversation will be interested to read an alternative view.

The Ofcom proposals (which we expect to see come into effect) confirm that the long term solution is the same as that which applies as the immediate solution. Where a business or public service provider requires a non-geographic number for basic contact, they should select a 03 number. If a 084 (or 087) number is currently being used, they can immediately switch to the equivalent 034 (or 037) number.

Calls to all 03 numbers are currently, and will continue to be, charged at the same rate as calls to geographic numbers (normally zero for contracted services). Ofcom rejected the idea of applying this rule to 0845 numbers – it has therefore ensured that there will continue to be just one range of non-geographic numbers that are charged at the geographic rate (03).

The simplicity which this provides is welcome. It also helps in exposing the status quo. This is why migration from 084 to 034 is required from those who do not wish to be seen as imposing a Service Charge, or cannot do so. Making 0845 equivalent to geographic rate could have been simpler as a short term measure, as only those who wished to continue to impose a Service Charge would have needed to migrate. It would however have left the situation intolerably messy (unless something had also been done to redefine the 0844/3 and 087 ranges, possibly creating even more confusion and the need for further number migration).

The fair telecoms campaign urges those who do not wish to be seen as imposing a Service Charge to immediately migrate from 084 to 034, before they are compelled to. Businesses who fall with the provisions of the proposed implementation of Consumer Rights Directive will compelled to migrate, as they will be prohibited from imposing a Service Charge rather than simply required to declare it – see http://tiny.cc/FTMR_CRD. (I find it inexplicable that Which? fails to make any reference to this important measure, which has now been announced, as it addresses the essential point covered by this conversation!)

Non-geographic numbers are suitable for cases where it is not appropriate for a national or regional service to be associated with any particular geographic location and / or where the additional technical facilities readily available with all non-geographic numbers are needed. As calls to 03 numbers are charged in exactly the same way as calls to geographic numbers, it is important that they are accepted as a valid (indeed the preferred) option for such situations.

When all 080 numbers become free to call from mobiles, the consequential increased cost of operating them will cause their use to be re-assessed. As many callers (including users of contract mobiles) pay nothing to call 03 numbers, 080 numbers should only be used in cases where it is necessary for the person called to always pick up the cost of the call (even in cases where the caller would not have paid to call a 03 number).

I therefore see 080 numbers as being changed in their use to cases where it is imperative that no caller pays a call charge, or where a company is so keen to attract business that it is happy to pay for sales enquiry calls that would have been free on a 03 number. I therefore do not see it as appropriate to press for their use as standard on pre-sales and on service lines – indeed they cannot be used without alternatives for mobile callers at present.

Where a call is made within the terms of a package that includes calls to 03 numbers, it could be said that the telephone company is effectively getting paid twice if a 080 number is used instead. In such cases, there is no benefit to the caller and there is an unnecessary cost to the person called to the benefit of the telephone company. Use of 080 numbers is therefore only justified where this disadvantage is offset or overridden by consideration of the other cases.

*** Footnote

Contracted telephone services, i.e. landlines and mobiles other than PAYG, are now invariably presented with a selection of packages of inclusive calls. The chosen package will (generally) have limits by the time of day or the volume of calls. Because the penalty charges for calls made outside the package are generally severe, subscribers will choose a package that covers all of their calling. Obviously they have to pay for this. It does however mean that any additional call within the terms of the package is free – the “marginal call cost” is zero.

(I trust that Which? cautions its members against the danger of incurring penalty call charges by selecting an inappropriate Call Plan.)

Whilst every call could be said to have an “economic” cost, I believe that it is reasonable to use zero as the basis for comparison when considering a case where a person being called may be considering use of a number for which the cost of the call would fall outside the terms of the caller’s package.

Careful selection of the correct package has taken some time to take off, however consumers are increasingly getting wise to this. It is now over twelve months since BT announced that “Unlimited Anytime” had become its most widely used Call Plan. Two years previously it was said to be used by only 10% of subscribers.

We are now in a world where the “standard” cost of a telephone call (under a contracted service) to a “normal rate” number can fairly be said to be zero. This only excludes PAYG users and those who exceed their call allowance, or choose a time-of-day limited plan and then call at other times.

George Tiddy says:
30 August 2012

“Which” Good Name Eh
Which Ever Way You Go, This Country Is A Total Rip Off IN ALL DIRECTIONS
& Will Never Chane while we have governments WHO SUPPORT IT
just to get their Revenues, & fill Their Pockets As well as the 90% of all businesses

nhspatient mentions that 080 calls are likely to be made free from mobiles, and then goes on to recommend subscribers to move away from them to 03 numbers.

This seems perverse, as it would result in PAYG users paying for something that they could otherwise have had free (once Ofcom acts, that is). It will also result in higher charges from landlines without an “anytime” bundle, and make it harder and more expensive to call from a coin-box.

It’s also notable that most “anytime” bundles make a distinction between 0845/0870 (included) and 0844 (paid) and 0871 (expensive). It is the 0844 and 0871 numbers that Which? should refuse to print in its reviews.


The move from 080 to 03 is simply a likely consequence of the increased costs that will be incurred (in many cases unnecessarily) by those who currently use 080 numbers. If this is going to happen anyway, then the sooner the better, because many mobile callers will benefit immediately.

The number of landline callers who incur penalty charges for calling geographic rate (01/02/03) numbers outside the terms of their chosen Call Plan has fallen dramatically and will doubtless continue to fall further. The number of PAYG users is also falling, although less dramatically.

Those who are prepared, or obliged, to meet the unnecessary cost of calls that would not incur a charge if made to a geographic rate number must continue to offer 080 numbers. This is for the benefit of PAYG and payphone users, and those with contract mobiles or landlines who choose to incur penalty charges by making calls to geographic rate numbers outside the terms of their chosen bundle or calling plan.

Stuart Stringer says:
3 September 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.


I am at one with the points you make. There is however a difficulty with the first.

Because of the bizarre regulation that currently only applies to BT, it is uniquely able to include 0845 calls within its call plans without pushing the cost of the plan to unacceptable levels. Some of those who compete directly with BT have felt forced to follow this move (although incurring costs which one assumes they must recover from elsewhere in their tariffs).

This anomaly should end under the forthcoming new regulatory regime, which will remove this final element of the special regulation of BT.

Another point to note is that ALL customers of the major landline call service providers benefit from unlimited calls to 01/02/03 numbers of up to 59 minutes. This is not some special group of heavy callers. Those who do not make landline calls at all on weekdays or never before 7pm can benefit from discounted call plans which exclude calls made at these times.

Having taken this discount, they incur penalty charges if calling outside the terms of their chosen plan. BT continues to increase the level of these penalty charges at the rate of around 30% per annum!

The perverse BT regulations kick in again here, because the charges for calls to all non-geographic numbers are regulated, whereas those for calls to geographic numbers are not. The unregulated BT weekday daytime penalty charge for out of plan calls to geographic numbers is greater than the regulated charge for calling all 084 and some 087 “Premium Rate Service” numbers.

Another perverse aspect of this situation is that essentially all of the penalty charge is revenue for BT, whereas all of the charge for calling 084 and 087 numbers is paid on to the telephone company of the person called.

This may feel like a complete “socket set” has been thrown in to disturb an over-simplistic understanding of the situation. I believe that if we wish to seriously campaign for change, we must understand at least something of the highly complex nature of the “works” that we are addressing.