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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?

Comments
Profile photo of NFH
Member

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.

Member
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.

Member
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.

Member
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!

Member
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.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Member
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.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Profile photo of NFH
Member

Wavechange, would you like to name and shame any of the three companies that are still using 084 numbers? In most cases, this is now unlawful, as explained above.

Member
Ian says:
5 July 2015

Re: I am not going to celebrate until numbers with an access charge and a service charge are withdrawn.

Exposure of the Service Charge makes it easier to challenge inappropriate usage of these numbers, and that is what consumers must now do.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Two of the companies are using 084 numbers legally and one of them corrected its website promptly when I pointed out that it is wrong to describe an 0845 number as ‘local rate’. I want to thank them for doing this and to ask for a geographical number (which I was given last time I called) to be shown on their website.

The company that concerns me is RAC. The renewal letter shows a ‘Member Services team’ number as 0844 8912357. I assume that this is a customer services number and should have been phased out. Interestingly, the number does not appear on the RAC website, which gives 0844 891 3111 as the customer service number. They also have an 0870 number for those whose new car came with breakdown cover, with a footnote: ‘Calls charged at local rate’ 🙁

I need to renew my motor insurance so will get quotes including breakdown cover. I expect that the only call I will be making to RAC will be to tell them I’m not renewing my cover. I have already looked up a Freephone alternative to the number I was given.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I called RAC to get a quotation for revised cover and mentioned the phone numbers, saying that it would have been quite expensive if I had called on an 0844 number. They gave me a different Freephone number from the one I had looked up. I asked them to get rid of the 0844 numbers and reference to ‘local rate’.

Profile photo of Clint Kirk
Member

I suspect the trouble with the RAC is general sluggishness and incompetence due to too many levels of bureaucracy, rather than any attempt to make money by deception. RAC used to have an 0800 number for those wanting breakdown assistance. I used to point out to them that calling 0800 from a mobile (as you would when you’ve broken down) means both the RAC and the customer would pay for the call – a lose-lose situation that helped nobody. The operator didn’t understand that 0800 numbers were free. Two years ago, the penny dropped and they changed the 0800 number to a geographic-rate 03 number, saying they did that specifically for mobile phone users. But that was after the announcement that 0800 would become free from mobiles! Now there is only an 03 number available for breakdown assistance. If only they did things more quickly and started using the 03 number many years earlier, it would have helped from themselves and their customers.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Clint – The RAC website gives 0333 2000 999 and 0800 82 82 82 as numbers for breakdowns.

The number they give for Customer Service is 0844 891 31111. When I commented about use of an 084 number they gave me 0800 550550. I suggested they put that on their website, but see that has not happened. I found a different number – 0800 0961162 – on saynotto0870.

I suspect there is more than incompetence going on. 🙁

Profile photo of stevegs
Member

TalkTalk (and a few other telecom companies) treated 0845 and 0870 numbers like 03 numbers, ie they were free at any time 03 numbers are free, which depended on your package. This change has given TalkTalk an excuse to start charging for the numbers, with an access charge of 5p per minute! AFAIA, other companies are following suit so there’s no point in moving. From my point of view, this change is a step backwards.

I can’t understand why Ofcom didn’t abolish the 08 racket altogether. Too many companies are still capitalising on 084 and 087 numbers for their customer services departments. Apart from 0800 (which followed the US area code 800 principle of being free to caller), all 08 numbers should be charged just the same as 03. 09 is reserved for rip-off numbers.

Another way to avoid charges is saynoto0870.com

Profile photo of NFH
Member

You question why Ofcom didn’t abolish the 084 and 087 racket altogether. I question why Ofcom (or previously Oftel) ever allowed this racket to evolve in the first place. In the United States, such a system has never existed, where the only non-geographic area codes are free (e.g. 1-800, 1-877 etc) and full premium rate (1-900) akin to the UK’s 09 range. It is a disgrace that the system of surcharged non-geographic numbers for customer service lines was ever allowed to evolve in the UK. Unlike US consumers, UK consumers are often far too indifferent and tolerant of unfair commercial practices.

Member
Ian says:
5 July 2015

When you call an 084 number, including 0845, depending on the level of Service Charge, your landline or mobile provider has to pay out up to 7p per minute (up to £4.20 per hour) to the organisations that you called.

When you call an 087 number, including 0870, depending on the level of Service Charge, your landline or mobile provider has to pay out up to 13p per minute (up to £7.80 per hour) to the organisations that you called.

This is why these calls cannot be inclusive.

Previously, the payout for 0845 and 0870 numbers was lower (0845 was 2p per minute, 0870 was 0.5p per minute). The changes on 1 July 2015 increased them such that 0845 is now treated the same as 0843 and 0844. Likewise, 0870 is now treated the same as 0871 and 0872.

Organisations still using 084 and 087 numbers and who are unable to justify the Service Charge, or who are prevented by other regulations (e.g. CCR 2013 published by BIS, or forthcoming regulation published by the FCA) or guidance (published by Cabinet Office) from imposing it, must change their number. Ofcom made matching 034 and 037 numbers available for this purpose in 2007.

The new charging structure requires all users of 084, 087 and 09 numbers to declare the Service Charge. This makes it much easier to challenge inappropriate usage of these numbers. Many organisations using these numbers have been unaware of what callers pay for these calls. Under the new system there can be no doubt.

Member
Ian says:
5 July 2015

Re: You question why Ofcom didn’t abolish the 084 and 087 racket altogether. I question why Ofcom (or previously Oftel) ever allowed this racket to evolve in the first place.

In the 1980s, all telephone call costs were high. Everyone had a BT landline and mobile phones were analogue and hardly existed. Calls from landlines to geographic numbers were charged as local, regional or national calls. The latter were very expensive. It cost a fortune to ring the head office of a company if it were outside your immediate local area. Inclusive calls hadn’t yet been invented.

Non-geographic numbers were developed and these were charged the same as a local call or as a national call. This allowed the caller to speak to a company at the other end of the country for the price of a local call. At the time, these numbers were a good thing. Businesses took them up as they allowed one central number to be published and calls routed according to caller location, time of day, or from options selected from a menu.

The telephone market was then opened to competition and the concept of termination rates introduced. To begin with they were quite high and, initially, the cost of calls to geographic or non-geographic numbers hardly changed. The concept of revenue sharing on 0845 and 0870 numbers was introduced and much later new revenue sharing ranges (0844 and 0871) were added in 2001.

Non-geographic numbers had originally been a good thing, but the tide was turning. Organisations such as banks and travel agents started introducing 0870 numbers for their individual branches, meaning that calling your local branch incurred a national rate charge. Opposition to these numbers started to appear.

Over time, the termination rate for calls to geographic numbers began to fall. By 2003 it had fallen to such an extent that landline providers could now begin to offer inclusive calls to 01 and 02 geographic numbers anywhere in the country for a small monthly fee. With much higher termination rates, calls to 084 and 087 numbers were excluded. Organisations such as sayNOto0870 stepped up the fight against usage of these expensive numbers and published lists of unofficial 01 and 02 numbers to help callers avoid the expense of calling 084 and 087 numbers.

In 2009, Ofcom removed revenue sharing from 0870 numbers and these calls became inclusive from landlines but not from mobiles. BT wrongly anticipated that Ofcom would remove revenue sharing from 0845 numbers and made 0845 calls inclusive. A few landline providers followed BT’s move in including 0845 numbers and found themselves paying out 2p per minute while collecting nothing from the caller that had made the call. Most users of 0870 numbers simply moved to 0844 or 0871 numbers to carry on receiving revenue share payments and consumers gained nothing. The cost of calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers from mobiles remained high.

Ofcom had introduced 03 numbers in 2007. These are non-geographic numbers charged at the same rate as calling 01 and 02 numbers and which count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and on mobiles. The call handling and call forwarding costs incurred in the use of a non-geographic number are paid for by the called party. Take up of these numbers was low. It was now time to change that.

In 2010, Ofcom kicked off a far wider review of all 08, 09 and 118 numbers. After multiple consultations and sustained opposition from mobile networks eventually followed by a long implementation period, the new call charge system came into effect on 1 July 2015.

The new system treats all 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers the same way with a declared Service Charge and a standard Access Charge. Where the Service Charge cannot be justified, users of 084 and 087 numbers have a clear migration path to 034 and 037 numbers. In the meantime, other regulations (from BIS, FCA, DoH) and guidance (from Cabinet Office) has forced many organisations to make the move to 03 numbers. Declaration of Service Charge increases pressure on many other organisations to follow.

In future, 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers will be used to provide recognised chargeable services with a declared Service Charge. Ordinary day to day communication with businesses will take place only on 01, 02, 03 and 080 numbers.

Nowadays, the normal way to pay for telephone calls is through an inclusive call plan covering calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers at any time of the day or night, seven days a week. Most people should have no need to call 084, 087 or 09 numbers unless they are accessing a chargeable service.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Thank you very much, Ian, for providing such a coherent explanation of the situation. That it has taken 744 words to do so is a reflection of the muddle-headed way in which telecom services have developed in the UK over the last two decades. As you say, it is all much simpler now but we must maintain the vigilance to ensure that firms are not still directing people to route routine calls through chargeable service lines. Years ago, in the days of the nationalised industries, Post Offices used to have handy little government leaflets on various service aspects and explanations of changes; nowadays you have to first realise what it is you don’t know and then look for it on the web. No wonder consumers are in a perpetual state of confusion.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

As far as I’m concerned, the job is only half done. I expect that I will have to continue to look up alternative numbers, either geographical or freephone, each time I encounter an 08 number.

Member
Ian says:
5 July 2015

Where users of 084 and 087 numbers fail to declare the Service Charge they must be challenged to declare it else change their number.

Where a Service Charge is declared but it is clearly inappropriate and unjustified they must also be persuaded to change their number.

Ofcom made the matching 034 and 037 numbers available for this purpose in 2007. Public services also have the option of a new 030 number.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Would it not be possible to have all chargeable service numbers beginning with the same number so there is no confusion as to whether you will be paying above normal for a call?

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

There is no technical reason why a recorded announcement by the telecome service provider cannot be relayed every time a chargeable service number is called saying something like “You are calling a chargeable service line. The responder must inform you about the charges payable”.

Member
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.

Other numbers, such as those starting 055, 056, 070, 076, will be reviewed by Ofcom at some point in the future, perhaps next year. The 0500 range was reviewed in 2014 and these numbers will be phased out by 3 June 2017.

Member
Ian says:
5 July 2015

Re: There is no technical reason why a recorded announcement by the telecoms service provider cannot be relayed every time a chargeable service number is called saying something like “You are calling a chargeable service line. The responder must inform you about the charges payable”.

By the time the caller picks up the receiver, they have already made te decision to make the call. It’s already too late to be informing them to go look up the call costs.

The strapline for the UK Calling changes that came into effect last week was “know the cost before you call” and places an obligation on all users of 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers to declare the Service Charge immediately adjacent to the telephone number everywhere that it is advertised.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Thank you Ian. I was falling behind the action again. Your final paragraph covers it completely.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Ian – Have a look at RAC Breakdown on this page: http://www.rac.co.uk/contact-us

Being informed that ‘Calls from other networks may vary’ is not a great deal of help to me.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Ian, Thanks. But why should we all have to remember which 6 numbers have a significant charge? I was simply asking why one number prefix could not be used.

Member
Ian says:
5 July 2015

Once you have remembered that 080 is free from landlines and from mobiles, it shouldn’t be too difficult to remember that all other 08 and 09 numbers are chargeable calls with an Access Charge and a Service Charge.

Some landline providers continue to confuse the situation by providing inclusive calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers where the Service Charge run up by the caller is paid for by all subscribers rather than by only the particular caller that made use of the chargeable service.

DQ services throughout Europe use numbers starting 118 which explains why there is a separate number range for that.

Member

Re: “Being informed that ‘Calls from other networks may vary’ is not a great deal of help to me.”

Since 1 July 2015, any such declaration is a clear breach of the new Ofcom and ASA rules.

Feel free to raise the issue with Advertising Standards.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I was hoping that someone else would take this on. I’m having a fair amount of success with getting smaller companies to update their phone numbers but the big boys like RAC pay little attention. 🙁

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I have been trawling websites and see that Freephone numbers, geographical numbers and 03 numbers are in widespread use for customer service and other calls. Unfortunately, the insurance industry is still making extensive use of 0844 and 0845 numbers, even for customer service calls.

Member

The use of 084, 087 and 09 numbers by insurance companies for post sales lines will no longer be permitted from 26 October 2015.

Profile photo of NikNakk
Member

The changes have led to a marked increase in cost for 084 and 087 numbers for users of three mobiles on newer plans. Those on pay-monthly plans from March 2014 (July 2014 for sim-only) were paying 5p per minute for 084 and 087 numbers up until 1 July 2015. Since then, the charges are 25p per minute plus the service charge, which means they are up to 38p/min or nearly 8 times as much. Having said that, the only cheaper mobile provider according to http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/phones/2015/05/calls-to-084-087-09-and-118-to-be-clearer-but-prices-vary-wildly is TalkTalk at 20p per minute. (Noting that vodafone go up from 23p/min to 45p/min from 10th August)

Member

While the cost of calling 084 and 087 numbers has gone up, the cost of calling customer services, financial services and public services has gone down – because the vast majority have moved to the matching 034 or 037 number or to a new 030, 033 or 080 number.

Calls to 03 numbers cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and mobiles. As more and more organisations change their number, the cost of calling 084 and 087 numbers has become largely irrelevant.

Ofcom’s recent reforms to non-geographic call pricing recognises that all 084, 087 and 09 numbers are premium rate. The premium payment is now separately declared as the Service Charge that is paid to the benefit of the called party and their telecoms provider.

Before 1 July 2015, Three were losing money on calls to most 087 numbers as they had to pay enhanced termination fees that were higher than the retail price of the call. This absurd situation has now been brought to an end and the enhanced termination rate renamed as the Service Charge and separately declared.