/ Technology

0800 & 0845 mobile charges are a dog’s dinner

Girl using mobile phone

Do you know how much you pay to call an 0845 number from your mobile phone? No? Nor do I. And do you assume, as many people would, that calling an 0800 number is free from a mobile? Well, usually it isn’t.

Mobile charges are a dog’s dinner. This became apparent to me when my daughter told me she’d paid more than £20 to report a friend’s mobile phone lost by calling the ‘lost or stolen’ helpline of her friend’s network – this was an 0845 number. Leaving aside that this took three calls and a good deal of discussion, the experience raised two questions…

How much does it cost to 08 numbers?

How does anyone on a mobile know what they are paying to call this sort of number? And are mobile operators making it easy to report that you’ve lost your phone? It’s likely you’ll be calling from a different network or a landline, so providers should take account of this when setting up a ‘lost or stolen’ helpline.

On the first question, telecoms watchdog Ofcom says people don’t know what they pay from a mobile. That’s not surprising when 0845 numbers get advertised (as T-Mobile did in this case) as ‘at local rates’. That is meaningless for someone on a mobile.

From a BT landline, calling an 0845 number for five minutes would cost just over 25p if the call wasn’t part of your package and calling an 0800 number would be free. But calling from a mobile can cost far more; from an Orange mobile, for example, calling an 0845 number could cost up to £2 for five minutes, calling an 0800 number that isn’t a charity could be up to £1.75. Why so costly?

Ofcom says that it used to cost mobile networks more than landline providers to handle these calls but ‘costs have fallen significantly over the years’. This makes me wonder if I sometimes pay over the odds.

New premium rate rules

New draft rules propose banning companies from charging you more than the ‘basic rate’ of a phone call to contact its helpline about something you’ve bought. This is good, but if you call from a mobile it’s likely 08 calls aren’t part of your package so, despite being saved from premium rates, you may still be charged. Ofcom is looking to make 0800 calls free from everywhere, including mobiles, and to make 0845 call costs clearer at last. Let’s hope it will.

To see how easy it is to report a mobile lost or stolen, we looked at the helplines. Most were 08 lines (not helpful if you call on a mobile). The rest were 07, so are covered by inclusive minutes in a mobile package.

Mobile phone theft is rising. I’d guess that many victims are young people and the first thing they do is borrow their friend’s mobile to report the phone missing. So why can’t all those offering 08 numbers offer an 07, too?


We should have one price for all phone calls and let the service providers compete on price of tariffs.

Ian01 says:
28 August 2013

RE: “New draft rules propose banning companies from charging you more than the ‘basic rate’ of a phone call to contact its helpline about something you’ve bought. This is good, but if you call from a mobile it’s likely 08 calls aren’t part of your package so, despite being saved from premium rates, you may still be charged. Ofcom is looking to make 0800 calls free from everywhere, including mobiles, and to make 0845 call costs clearer at last. Let’s hope it will.”

I think someone has misunderstood the intention of the “basic rate” clause. This requires businesses no longer user 084, 087 and 09 numbers for customer service. The number must be one beginning 01, 02, 03, 080 or a mobile number. The call price for 084, 087 and 09 calls will be irrelevant.

The reason for the confusion over the price of 0845 calls is simply that although calls to these numbers incur an undeclared Service Charge of 2p/min, some landline operators allow these calls within inclusive allowances, effectively making a loss on every call. They are trying to keep up the pretence that these are cheap calls. BT can afford to do that as they are the largest terminator of 0845 calls and make 2p/min from every such call wherever it originates. Ofcom’s changes will make things very much more clear. Users of 0845 numbers will be required to declare the 2p/min Service Charge.

Users of other 084 numbers will declare a Service Charge between 2p and 7p/min and users of 087 numbers will declare a Service Charge between 5p and 13p/min. It will be very clear that the Service Charge applied to 0845 numbers is no different to the lower end of the range of Service Charges that apply to 0843 and 0844 numbers.

Ian01 says:
28 August 2013

Typo: user -> use.

PedroStephano says:
28 August 2013

This has been a problem for a long time, good to see Which addressing it. As a habit, I don’t dial 0845 or 0870 numbers ever, except when it’s free (I get some free minutes to these numbers on my home landline). When I’m mobile I use websites like saynoto0870.com to look up alternative 01 02 03 phone numbers for the call needed. There are also apps available for smartphones that can offer geographical equivalents for these premium-on-mobile numbers.
The idea of having an 07 number to report lost or stolen is a good one and should be pushed hard.

Peter Morgan says:
4 October 2013

On the other hand, an 03 number would be better than 07, because calling from a landline or mobile could be an “included” call (depending on your calling package).

07xxx is going to be at least 8p a minute from a landline in most cases, and if you’ve lost your mobile, it may well be that you call from your landline 🙂

Ian01 says:
7 October 2013

Calls to 07 numbers count towards inclusive allowances from contract mobile phones. From pay-as-you-go mobile phones, calls to other mobile phones are charged at the standard headline rate advertised for each tariff.

Ofcom is steadily reducing the mobile termination rate. By 2015, the mobile termination rate may be low enough such that some landline operators have call plans where calls to mobile numbers are also counted as inclusive.

Several landline operators already offer inclusive calls to numbers on their own counterpart mobile network. BT offers half-price calls to mobiles on all networks on their BT AnyTime tariff.

I don’t believe there are such things as “free minutes” or cheap calls – it’s all in the price of the tariff or bundle. For the operators it really is a case of what they lose on the swings they get back on the roundabouts. People having both a mobile phone on contract and a landline are probably getting the worst deal but the landline might be necessary for other purposes. So the key to avoiding excessive costs is to optimise use of the landline and have a PAYG mobile for receiving calls and emergencies. PAYG certainly makes you think twice about making calls both in terms of the number of calls and the necessity of each one. Of course, if you want to play games, follow friends, and see what won the one-o’clock at Wolverhampton then there’s a price for those pleasures.

Of course the calls are included in the tariff or bundle fee, John. However once you have paid the tariff you use the time or lose it, so that makes it free of additional charge.

I switched to a phone/Internet bundle that included limited calls to 0870/0845 numbers and limited evening calls to mobiles, which has probably saved me money. Very much against my wishes, I have switched from PAYG to a monthly rolling mobile contract because my work for a charity involves me calling people who cannot give me a landline number. I never called 0800, 0845, etc numbers when I was on PAYG and I have no plans to do so now that I know that they are not included in the “free” minutes on my contract.

Wavechange awards his 2013 prize for obfuscation to those that provide our phone services, to be shared between mobile and landline service providers. 🙁

I endorse that totally. The runner up must be the energy companies . . . but that’s another topic. It’s entirely a result of digitisation which, in bringing us this impressive and useful technology, has enabled anything that can be measured electronically to be fragmented, segmented and recharged in mind-splitting bundles of units which ought to be priced in thousandths [at worst] of pence but, in practice, are subject to upwards-only roundings and surrounded by so many practical restrictions related to time and/or distance that no one, not even the wicked Which?, can compare or comprehend them.

Paul Dwane says:
28 August 2013

Even Government departments are ripping people off. Calls to unemployment benefit offices are through 0845 numbers. Many unemployed people will use mobiles and these calls will cost a lot of money they don’t have. To phone the DVLA now costs £1.53 – absolutely disgusting.

Peter Morgan says:
4 October 2013

I understand that some have 0800 numbers and have agreed to meet the cost even when the caller is on a mobile, so as not to deter calls (or cause the caller to run out of PAYG credit).

I did talk at some length to my local council about their use of an 0845 number (because an 03xxx would be cheaper for many callers, and included in many packages), but also appreciate that the changeover when they serve tens of thousands of residents and businesses is going to take a long time.

I would like to see them FORCED to do so, however, so they have (say) an 18 month timetable in which to dispose of 08xx numbers (and where they may have an 0800 number, to also have an 03 number equivalent, so it can be called from a mobile, given some households have no landline).

Ian01 says:
7 October 2013

If Fife Council can change from 0845 to 0345 so can anyone… http://www.fifedirect.org.uk/03

As for 080 numbers, Ofcom has already proposed these be free calls from all mobiles. The implementation is currently delayed because at least one mobile network has strongly objected to this happening.

Peter Morgan says:
11 October 2013

Any idea how long ago Fife Council started planning the change from 0845 to 0345. I would expect it to have been 18 months to 2 years, because of the lead time in changing, checking and printing every paper document that goes out to the public, and the fact there are probably store rooms full of such documents, enough to last a year or more.

I agree they should all do this, but am realistic that even if it councils were told to do this tomorrow, it would be unlikely before the 2016/17 financial year. Just too many things to change before fresh print runs, else they’d be accused of wasting money on such a change.

Ian01 says:
20 October 2013

Ofcom have made the changeover to 03 numbers very easy for all existing users of 084 and 087 numbers. These users can simply move to the matching 034 or 037 number, retaining the remainder of the digits of the old number, and this can be easily actioned within a timescale as short as a few days.

There’s no need to scrap existing paperwork. The old number can be set to play a recorded announcement informing callers of the new number, and at no cost to the caller. As more and more of these migrations occur, consumers will become used to the simple change of 084 and 087 to 034 and 037.

It is because the Regulator has not shown or used its teeth.

Freephone 0800 should be that – no exceptions – but the mobile suppliers have whinged like a 3 year old not having its way. Yes all these things cost, but last time I checked all the Telecoms companies reported year on year profit increases and boasted of “massive” investments in their infrastructure.

Both landline and mobile operators must be made by the regulator to include 087* and 0845 numbers into a package as a majority of people do need to call suppliers who use these numbers. However could they be limited by the number of times a call is made in a charging period as there might be a queue, but users know if they hang in and wait, then they will know how much the call will cost. Rather than 1 hrs call duration.

Ian01 says:
28 August 2013

RE: “Both landline and mobile operators must be made by the regulator to include 087* and 0845 numbers into a package”

In general, 084 and 087 numbers cannot be included in call packages because there is a Service Charge to the benefit of the called party which you pay within the call price. There are, however, a couple of exceptions and this is where some of the confusion comes from.

The Service Charge has been suspended on 0870 numbers since 2009, and will return at around the 10p/min level in 2015.

The 2p/min Service Charge on 0845 numbers is completely invisible if you’re with BT (and a few others) because they subsidise it from the monthly package fee.

Additionally, BT prices for other 084 and 087 numbers are not typical. They are capped to give BT no profit on call origination. That regulation will be lifted in 2014.

084 and 087 numbers are not cheap. There are no ties to local or national rates and haven’t been since 2004.

084 and 087 numbers are expensive. Proof of that comes from looking at the call price from mobiles and from the various landline operators that don’t copy BT’s capped prices.

Ofcom has already got to grips with the problem. In 2007, the 03 range of numbers came into use. These are cheap to call from all landlines and they are cheap to call from all mobiles. They are charged at the same rate as a call to an 01 or 02 number and count towards inclusive call packages on landlines and mobiles. There is no Service Charge and revenue sharing is not allowed.

The provisions of the Consumer Rights Directive will be law in December 2013 and will apply from June 2014. Businesses currently using 084 and 087 numbers for customer service now have only nine months to swap their number to the equivalent 034 or 037 number or to a brand new 01, 02, 030, 033 or 080 number.

Stop thinking about 0845 and 0870 as being cheap and 0844 and 0871 as being expensive. All of them are equally expensive when called from a mobile phone.

Don’t consider BT prices as “typical”. They are not. BT prices are the exception as they are the only ones that are currently regulated. When that regulation ends in 2014, BT will be allowed to make profit on these calls and their prices will probably rise.

In 2015, Ofcom will scrap connection fees and they will be replaced by a “per-minute” Access Charge. Phone networks will declare a single Access Charge per tariff. Users of 084, 087 and 09 numbers will be required to declare their Service Charge.

It will soon be apparent that 0845 numbers are charged no differently than (the lowest Service Charge levels of) 0843 and 0844 numbers. Likewise 0870 numbers will be charged much like 0871 numbers.

03 numbers are confirmed as the only non-geographic number range with call pricing that is exactly the same as 01 and 02 numbers and for all callers. These are the ones that most businesses should now be using.

B C Thomas says:
29 August 2013

Is it correct that BT makes a ‘connect charge’ (or something similar) when ever a call is made
from a land line?

Ian01 says:
5 September 2013

A call to an 084 or 087 number with a Service Charge of 7p/min is currently advertised as costing “5.1p/min plus a 15p connection fee” when called from a BT landline.

That same call currently costs anywhere from 20p to 41p/min when called from a mobile phone and “12p/min plus 16p connection fee” when called from a Virgin Media landline.

BT call rates for 084 and 087 numbers are always the lowest of all providers. The “NTS Condition” stops BT from making a profit on call origination. This restriction will be lifted in 2014.

Connection fees will also be scrapped and how the call price is calculated will be re-arranged. It will consist of the Service Charge to the benefit of the called party and an Access Charge to the benefit of your telephone provider. Each will be separately declared.

The Service Charge will continue to be up to 7p/min for 084 numbers (2p/min for 0845 numbers) and up to 13p/min for 087 numbers, and, as now, vary according to the first six digits of the telephone number.

The Access Charge will be a single per-minute rate, one per tariff, covering all 084, 087 and 09 telephone numbers.

Alan says:
30 August 2013

The BT SmartTalk app for Android lets you call 0800, 0845 and 0871 numbers frorm your mobile and they are charged to your BT account at normal rates, and not charged to your mobile account.

Will it work if I do not have a BT account?

Alan says:
31 August 2013

No, it has to be linked to a BT account.

Peter Morgan says:
11 October 2013

One of the (very few) reasons I might consider BT again in future 🙂

People these days (myself included) use a mobile more than a landline. I was initially ‘caught out’ when my monthly bill (from Orange) was about £52. I normally pay around £31/month. It turned out that I’d made some calls to numbers beginning 08… (Many were to my bank, at the time, first Direct – an 0845 number). I now use ‘saynoto0870.com’ and an (android) app called “0800 buster” which seeks (and redirects and dials) a landline number to dial when I dial an 0800 (“free”) number on my mobile. The 08… thing with mobile phones is an appalling scam, ripping off customers and these calls should have been free – or at the advertised local rates – years ago, but it’s an ongoing cash cow for these greedy companies. It needs to stop. Now!

Hospital Doc says:
31 August 2013

what about the GP practices who use 0844, 0845, 0870 and so on? I thought that this had been declared unacceptable by the DH, but a third of our local practices use these numbers which is quite unnacceptable for those who use mobiles as their only phone and can often ill afford the high call costs.

GP contracts in England and Wales were amended in April 2010 to ban the use of 084 numbers. The deadline for compliance was April 2011. Previously, 087 and 09 numbers had been banned in 2005.

This issue is one that drives me mad – like Pedro, above, I almost never call 0845, 0844,0870 and so on either from my landline or my mobile as they are a con in all circumstances, unless I really need to contact a company and I cannot find a geographical number. I have a ‘deal’ on both landline and mobile to call geographical numbers as part of my ( not cheap) package, but not these 0845 etc numbers. ‘Basic rate’ – what does that mean? From my landline, for example, I called the 0845 Harry Potter exhibition number because I could trace a number that was in my package. I had to wait 22 minutes to get an answer. When my phone bill came, that ‘basic rate’ phone call cost me nearly £2. Mmmm. Glad you are investigating the charges from mobiles, Which, but why not start a campaign to do away with these expensive numbers altogether, and restore geographical numbers?

Peter Morgan says:
11 October 2013

While I can understand your reaction (and think a call costing that much is appalling), you should not be pushing for “geographic numbers” but use of 03 numbers for businesses.

While 01 and 02 are geographic, 03 is a non-geographic number, and gets routed to a real landline (in a call centre, or office) or can go via the internet to the recipient. Big difference between 01/02 and 03 is that while 03 isn’t geographic, it should be charged as a geographic number. I know there may be some still not doing so but they are few and far between.

Back in the 90s a “local” number was cheaper than a “national” number and 0345/0645 (which later became 0845) were a benefit to households calling businesses, because of the “clever” switching which allowed a call to be routed to the nearest regional office and charged at “local” rate. The “special tariff” numbers that applies to all 08 numbers (free in the case of 0800, 0808 and 0500, except from mobiles!) is the cause of the problem. There was no price restriction placed on mobiles so they can charge what they like (at present) for any of these special tariff numbers, and have exploited this for years.

03 numbers are charged as geographic, but are virtual (in that they get diverted to another number or go via the internet to a recipient) and have all the clever switching facilities that the 08x and 09x numbers do, so regional call centres and so on can work with an 03 number instead of 08.

No one has mentioned WeQ4U. Since I discovered this app I have not paid a penny for any of my 0800 or 0845 calls from my mobile. I tried it out with a couple of calls and then checked my bill and I have not been been charged and the calls have come out of my package of standard calls.

I’ve just had a text to say that calls to 0800 numbers from my mobile will be free.

I doubt I have ever called an 0800 number from a mobile since calls are free from a landline, but I might make some just to celebrate the change. 🙂

Ian says:
28 May 2015

Calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers will become free from mobiles on 1 July 2015.