/ Technology

Freephone numbers really are now free for all

I like companies with 0800 numbers. To me it’s like they’re saying: ‘Give us a ring, we’re happy to talk to you and it won’t cost you a penny.’ Well, unless you’re calling from a mobile that is.

Until today, 0800 numbers were only free to call from a landline – not much use if, like me, you don’t have one – undermining their ‘freephone’ status in my eyes.

Thankfully, this glaring inconsistency has finally been ironed out and all freephone numbers (those that start 0800 or 0808) are now free to call from mobiles as well as landlines.

Clearer charges for 084, 087, 09 and 118 calls

The move is part of UK Calling, the biggest change to telephone calls in more than a decade. This also sees the cost of calling other numbers, such as those starting 084, 087, 09 or 118, made clearer.

It’s never been much help to non-BT customers to be told that ‘calls cost 12p per minute from a BT landline but may vary from other landlines and cost considerably more from mobiles’.

This is now changing. The cost for calling higher-rate numbers is being split between an ‘access charge’ (money that goes to your phone provider) and a ‘service charge’ (set by the firm you’re calling).

Each provider sets its own access charge and tells its customers, while companies must specify their service charge when advertising a phone number. So you’ll now see messages like Calls cost 10p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.’

Clearer charges but will calls be cheaper?

Clearer prices are surely a good thing. It should make it easier for you to understand the cost of making a call – by adding the two charges together.

But you’ll still need to know your phone company’s access charge. And will the overall cost be cheaper than the ambiguous prices some people have been stung with before?

Our executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: ‘Providers now need to be crystal clear with customers about their access charges for other 08 and 09 numbers so people can compare costs and know in advance what they will be billed.’

Would you switch to a different phone provider simply because it has lower access charges? Or will you still try to avoid 084, 087 and 09 numbers at all costs?


When Mercury one2one (which became T-Mobile) and Orange first launched as mobile networks in the mid-1990s, calls to 0800 numbers were free. Then both networks started charging for these calls around 10 years ago. It’s great that Ofcom have forced them to reverse the imposition of this unjustified charge.

The changes to 084 and 087 numbers, whereby the charge is now split into an access charge and a service charge, are largely a moot point, given that customer service lines have been prevented from using these prefixes since 13th June 2014 by Regulation 41 of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013.

Brian Seaton says:
4 July 2015

This might be “one small step” in the right direction for phone companies, but it’s hardly a “giant leap for mankind”.
The simple fact is that the pricing structure of telephone calls is so hugely complex that it’s only justification can be to flummox customers thereby allowing the providers to get away with rip-off prices.
For example: I regularly use an 0844 number to call family in Moscow and Japan and pay 1p per minute any day any time. An hour-long conversation costs less than £1. But if I didn’t have an anytime contract with BT, it would cost 9.53p per minute to call family living in the next street.
It’s plain ridiculous that I can call half-way round the world for 1/10th of what it costs to call the house next door. And when I called the operator to ask what the cost was to my 1p/min 0844 number I was incorrectly told (after it taking her some time to look it up) that it would cost “5.1p/min at all times”.
Talk about “left hand not knowing what the right is doing”.
The whole crazy system needs more than just a bit of tinkering with a few 08 numbers!!!!
The British public are being mercilessly ripped off under cover of obfuscational pricing.

Ian says:
5 July 2015

The changes made on 1 July 2015 simplified the system to this:

01, 02, 03 – inclusive in allowance, else charged at ‘geographic rate’.

071-075, 077-079 – inclusive in allowance, else charged at ‘mobile rate’.

080, 116 – free from landlines and from mobiles.

084, 087, 090, 091, 098, 118 – Access Charge plus Service Charge.

The normal way to pay for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers is through an inclusive package of calls that can be used at any time of the day or night, seven days a week. These inclusive allowances usually omit calls to landline and mobile numbers in Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man.

A few landline operators are continuing to confuse the situation by offering inclusive calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers.

0500 numbers are free from landlines, usually chargeable from mobiles, and will be phased out by 3 June 2017. Look for replacement 0808 5 numbers.

070 numbers are personal numbers charged at a premium rate. These, and numbers starting 055, 056 and 076 will be reviewed by Ofcom, perhaps next year, and probably phased out after that.

Chris Childs says:
4 July 2015

Vodafone charge me £2.50 inc vat for 300 minutes to 0800, 0845 and 0870 numbers monthly. Now that 0800 numbers are free I asked whether they would be proportionatly reduce this monthly cost as most of my calls were to 0800 numbers. The answer they have given me is NO! The charge will still be £2.50 a month. I feel this is VERY unfair!

Ian says:
5 July 2015

If you use the full 300 minute allowance to call 0870 numbers with a 13p per minute Service Charge, Vodafone will have to pay out £39 to the organisations that you called. The £36 that you haven’t paid comes from increased call costs for all other Vodafone customers.


I do not feel very positive about these changes. It is welcome that ‘freephone’ numbers are free from mobiles as well as from landlines, making the description accurate at last.

On the other hand, having an access charge and service charge on other numbers will make life even more complicated. If we cannot have simple phone charges that are easy for anyone to understand then phones should show the charge for a number before initiating the call.

Ian says:
4 July 2015

This change massively simplifies the system.

Previously there were 300 price points covering the 17 000 blocks of allocated 084, 087 and 09 numbers and each of those price points was charged at a different rate on each network because the quoted price covered both the part retained by the caller’s provider and the part that was passed on.

Now the cost has been split in two, there are 80 price points for the Service Charge and this charge is the same irrespective of which landline or provider is used to make the call and each provider declares a single Access Charge covering calls to all 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers.

The call cost is no longer allowed to vary by time of day or by day of week. Connection fees have also been banned on these calls.

The cost of these calls has become largely irrelevant. Forced to declare the Service Charge, most organisations have switched to 03 numbers where no such charge is imposed. For most people calls to 03 numbers are inclusive in their calls allowance on their landline or on their mobile.


I agree that the move to 03 numbers is a great help to the consumer, but that is not the focus of this Conversation. The three companies that I have to call on Monday are all still using 084 numbers.

I am not going to celebrate until numbers with an access charge and a service charge are withdrawn. Access charges could be covered in phone tariffs and if a charge is needed for providing a service (e.g. for providing computer support), there is no need for this to be paid for via the cost of a call.