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Calling 0845 and 0870 – how much does it cost you?

It should soon be free to call freephone numbers from mobiles. Not rocket science, you might think, but when it can cost as much to call an 0800 number as an 0870 one, something’s clearly in need of a shake up.

03, 0800, 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871, 09… That’s not, as you might think, a cryptic code, but just a selection of the UK’s ‘non-geographic’ calling codes – where the number isn’t linked to a geographic location, as with 01 and 02 numbers.

But when the cost of calling such numbers can vary hugely, and not just by the code itself but also depending on the phone service provider you’re calling from, it’s no wonder that Ofcom’s research shows that many of us are utterly confused. I know I am.

The cost of calling customer service

It’s difficult to escape calling non-geographic numbers. Many of the companies we need to contact – such as energy providers, banks or insurers – use these numbers for sales and customer service. So if you run into a problem – with your bill, or making an insurance claim, say – you’ll often have no choice but to call one.

This is an issue that past Which? Convo commenters have made their views clear on – but just how tough is it to understand how much you’ll pay?

The answer is – very. The cost of calling these numbers can vary greatly and charges are often as clear as mud, particularly if you’re calling from a mobile phone or a non-BT landline.

For example, calling a 0800 number from a landline is usually free, but calling from a mobile could cost you up to 40p per minute.

And while the widely-used 0845 can cost more than 10p a minute from some landlines, some providers include it alongside 01 and 02 minutes in their inclusive call packages. Don’t even get me started on 0844 and 0871 numbers.

In the dark over call costs

Many companies that use non-geographic numbers only advertise the cost of calling their number from a BT landline (often tucked away in the small print) but don’t give costs from other landline or mobile providers.

So, unless you have the time and inclination to scrutinise your phone provider’s complex price list – it’s likely that you’ll be completely in the dark about how much one of these calls will cost.

Ofcom has recommended that charges to 08, 09 and 118 numbers should be simplified. For example, it proposes that calls to 0800 numbers from a mobile would be free, just as they are from landlines. It also wants companies to offer clear and transparent information on charges for their customers.

At the moment, the chaotic and inconsistent pricing of numbers makes it impossible for consumers to predict the cost of calls, so we welcome Ofcom’s measures to simplify the system and increase transparency.

But we want to hear from you for a future magazine feature. Has the cost of calling, or the lack of transparency about charges, ever put you off calling a non-geographic number? And have you ever been shocked by how much it’s cost you to call a customer service line?

Are you baffled by the cost of non-geographic phone numbers, like 0845 or 0870?

Yes – I find the charges for these numbers really confusing (86%, 864 Votes)

Maybe - It depends on whether I’m calling from a landline or mobile (10%, 100 Votes)

No - I know exactly what every call I make will cost me (4%, 37 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,005

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With the exception of 0800, whenever I see a number with a non-geographic dialling code I am wary. I usually look to see if there is any call-charge information: if it says “calls are charged at the local rate” I go ahead but for any other rate [even as low as 4p a minute] I try to find an alternative number. Some of these can be found on the web, or on old bills, delivery notes, letters, or invoices, or even on initial promotional literature or advertising where they would not want to upset a potential customer with a high charge. Once I have got through to the organisation I say “is this the right number for [whatever it is] . . .?”. I invariably get transferred to the correct part of the organisation. In fact it confirms my long-held belief that if you want to be absolutely sure of an enquiry getting to the right place, direct it to the wrong place; the staff there will get it off their plates as quickly as they can.

I always call another dept. if it has a cheaper or free number and ask to be transferred. Have you ever experienced calling them once and getting put through, but another time being told ‘we can’t transfer call’ all of a sudden?

Frank says:
4 May 2012

When it says that calls will be charged at the “Local Rate” it does not mean that it is the same as an 01, 02 or 03 landline call. It means that the call is charged at the local Premium Rate,.ie 10p+ per minute.


dont go ahead if it claims to be a local rate.

there is no such thing as “local rates” now – they went out many years ago.

use of the term ” local rate ” is deception and probably fraud.

If it says “calls are charged at the local rate” then I realise they have no idea what they are talking about.

Since 2004, there has been no pricing difference based on distance when calling numbers beginning 01 and 02. There is just “geographic rate” and it applies to all 01 and 02 numbers in the UK (though it may exclude CI and IOM when it comes to “inclusive” calls).

0845 nothing extra now I’m on a fixed per month with unlimited calls that includes 0845. Any other number I refuse to ring.

Pat says:
28 April 2015

Who’s your provider?

Alan bound says:
6 June 2015

yes I have ,I rang Admiral car insurance because there wasn’t. A land line number for house insurance ,on a car insurance land line number when they answered I asked to be put through to house insurance and was told this could not be done

I was on a tariff that included calls to geographical numbers and have now paid more to include 0870 and 0845 numbers as part of a phone and broadband package. Unfortunately, that does not help with 0844 numbers, etc. Perhaps we should start asking organisations to call us back. They might get the message.

Personally, I’m liking the sounds of the Ofcom recommendations – I don’t know how many times I’ve been left thinking ‘How much?!’ when receiving a bill with a call to the bank included.

One of my biggest gripes is where it costs me a ridiculous amount to call up core government services such as HMRC, but I suppose that’s a topic for another conversation!

HMRC have now moved most of their services from 0845 and 0870 to new 0300 and 0345 numbers.

These cost the same as calling an 01 or 02 number and they also qualify as “inclusive” calls in packages on landlines and mobiles.

I recently went to Europe for a few days and travelled by Coach (to cut costs) and got an open return. It wasn’t until after I purchased the ticket that I realised I had to call them to arrange my return journey (rather than just roll up at the Coach station), and the number was an 0845 number.

Essentially they required me to call an 0845 number from a mobile whilst in another country. This could easily have been swept under the carpet if I got throught straight away and the call was 2 minutes max. Of course this wasn’t the case though, I was sent on a wild goose chase- on hold for 10 minutes before getting through and then asked to call a number in Paris (from the very same UK mobile). When i got through they then told me I had to call the very same 0845 number again, to be kept on hold for 5 more minutes.

I haven’t yet received my mobile phone bill, but I am dreading it, and have complained about the lack of service, but that is also an issue for another conversation.

John Symons says:
2 May 2012

The price of the goods or service should be on the goods or service, not on related phone calls especially if these are for complaints or the like. These add insult to injury.

I couldn’t agree more. Phone bills should include only charges for communications and nothing else. Any charges for goods or services should be paid for separately with a clear and transparent price. Similarly overtly premium rate 09 phone numbers should be banned. For example, if the producers of a reality television show wish to charge viewers to vote, those viewers should be explicitly asked to pay (e.g. with a credit card) and the payment to the broadcaster should not be misleadingly disguised on a phone bill as a communication charge.

Pay-as-you-go dial-up internet services (remember those?) and pay-as-you-use voice-conferencing are two services that are very suited to micro-payments collected via the phone bill, as are dial-a-weather-forecast or vote-on-a-TV-show and other such services. Directory Enquiries also works that way.

Product enquiries, complaints, customer service, renewals and other such functions should not impose extra charges on the caller – and they won’t once the new Bill on Consumer Rights passes into law later in 2013. That should see mass migration from 084 and 087 numbers to their 03 equivalent, or to new 01, 02 or 080 numbers.

Premium Rate Services on 09 numbers and non-geographic services on 084 and 087 numbers have always had a revenue share premium built into the call price. The problem is that this premium (or Service Charge as it will soon be known) has been hidden within the total call price, and the organisation you are calling hasn’t been openly declaring how much it is. Advertisers often hide behind BT’s low regulated prices, merely stating “other operators may charge more”.

As BT is regulated to make no profit on calls to 084, 087 and 09 numbers, when you call from a BT line almost all the money you pay for the call is passed on to the terminating telecoms provider and they then go on to share some of it with the organisation you called.

Other phone operators add their markup and mobile operators add a massive markup so these calls can be very expensive. Unless you check with your own operator for the exact price of the call, the bill can be a nasty shock when it arrives.

Since the Service Charge varies depending on the number called (1p to 5p/min on 084 numbers; up to 10p/min on 087 numbers and much more on 09 numbers) there are thousands of price bands – each one depending on the first six digits of the phone number. Landline price lists run to hundreds of pages for these numbers. Mobile operators add a huge markup and charge a fixed but highly inflated price.

For 0844 numbers with a 1p to 5p/min Service Charge, BT charges the exact same 1p to 5p/min (no Access Charge), Virgin add about 7p/min Access Charge on top of each one, and mobile operators charge a fixed amount per minute for the call – often around 30p to 40p/min – irrespective of the actual level of Service Charge that applies to the number you called (i.e. mobile operators add a variable Access Charge).

In the future, phone companies won’t tell you the total call price, they will tell you their markup (or Access Charge as it will become known) and that will be the same figure for all 084, 087 and 09 numbers on that tariff or price plan. For landline operators, the hundreds of pages of prices will be replaced with a simple, single Access Charge. For mobile operators, the single highly inflated call price (with a variable but hidden Access Charge) will be replaced by a single fixed Access Charge for all 084, 087 and 09 numbers. The Access Charge might be 5p/min from your landline and 20p/min from your mobile, with other rival operators maybe charging a bit more or a bit less.

It will then be easier to compare providers as you’ll only need to compare a single Access Charge for each of their tariffs.

Users of 084, 087 and 09 numbers will no longer be able to hide behind advertising only BT’s regulated low priced calls. They will instead have to declare their Service Charge and state that the callers phone network will also add an Access Charge. The Service Charge will still be based on the first six digits of the phone number and so the list will still run to hundreds of pages. Consumers will rarely need to refer to this list as the Service Charge for that particular phone number will be shown wherever each 084, 087 and 09 number is advertised.

Faced with declaring such a Service Charge, some users of 084 and 087 numbers might instead choose to migrate to 03 numbers where no such charge exists. Many will be forced to do so by the Bill on Consumer Rights.

The draft legislation was published by BIS early last week.


The specific detail is contained in this file:


and the relevant part is (39) especially (39) (2). This details the telephone number prefixes that will be allowed.

Paul says:
2 May 2012

There is a website called “Say No to 0870.” I’ve found this quite useful on several occasions lately as it gives alternative geographical numbers for 0844, 0870, 0845 and so on. Our phone package with the Phone Co-op gives free calls to geographic landlines and 0845/0871 numbers, as well as by the second billing for our mobiles.


sadly , the COOP themselves use 084x/087x very extensively..

and they make the fatuous claim to be BETTER because they are mutuals and dont have shareholders.

Simon says:
2 May 2012

Here here, well done for championing Which? (and good to see you setting an example by not using these rip off numbers yourself). I avoid at all costs 084xx/087xx/09xx numbers and think that variants should not be allowed. Some service providers state that 0870 and 0845 are free to call, but most organisations get around this by using 0871 and 0844 – this should be outlawed, it is totally misleading. Wherever possible, I use http://www.saynoto0870.com in order to find a cheaper alternative, and totally agree that THIS IS SOMETING OFCOM NEED TO CONTROL.

The Bill on Consumer Rights recently anounced in the Queens Speech will outlaw the use of these numbers for many of the things they are currently being used for.

You should see many organisations moving from 084 and 087 numbers to the equivalent 03 number in the next 12 months.

I rarely dial any 08 numbers other than 0800 which I know are free, and obviously never from my mobile. I use http://www.saynoto0870.com to find geographic numbers instead.

Liz says:
2 May 2012

I quite simply dont phone them. I refuse. I even walked to a gp surgery to make an appointment rather than phone the 0844 number. I got a post removed from the Next facebook page when i kept posting their 0800 number they said that they wanted people to use the 0844 number I wonder why!
i use the website sayno to 0845 numb etc to look up an alternative number

Rosie says:
2 May 2012

I don’t think banks and government departments should be forced to give a normal landline number, even if they also give an 0845 or similar number.
It costs be about 12p per minute to call my bank on an 0845 number just to find out what items are pending payment on my account (because the bank’s computer system isn’t sufficiently up to date to show the correct available balance and pending items!). I also strongly object to having to call these types of numbers for DVLA etc. These are normal day to day calls to public-serving organisations and they shouldn’t be allowed to profit from us having to pay premium rates to call them.
I also feel for the elderly who don’t have access to PCs (or aren’t able to use them) as they’re no doubt the ones being caught out by high phone bills when they can least afford them. (And please don’t anyone say they should shop around as that’s hard enough for most of us with internet access and busy lives, let alone the elderly).
It’s about time our MPs and consumer organisations sorted out these sort of issues once and for all.

I always call the international number, as this is a 01 or 02 number. If there isn’t one I try searching on saynoto0870.com (Not just for 0870 alternatives). Where my mobile is concerned I will very rarely call an 0845/0870/0844/0871 unless it’s very urgent, I’ll always try to locate and alternative. However on my network, GiffGaff, 0800 numbers are free which is great. Also if one dept. has a 01, 02 or 0800 number I’ll call them and hope they’ll transfer me to the correct dept.

Article 21 of Directive 2011/83/EU on Consumer Rights states:

“Member States shall ensure that where the trader operates a telephone line for the purpose of contacting him by telephone in relation to the contract concluded, the consumer, when contacting the trader is not bound to pay more than the basic rate.”

Unfortunately the government has decided to delay implementing Article 21 until June 2014, unlike Article 19 (for card surcharges) which will be implemented by the end of 2012. Another problem is that Article 3 exempts certain industries from complying with Article 21, e.g. healthcare, gambling, financial services and passenger transport services. This means, for example, that banks and airlines will be able to continue using rip-off 0844 numbers. Perhaps Which can lobby the government to implement Article 21 early (like Article 19) and not to grant any exemption to specific industries.

The full text of the directive is at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:304:0064:0088:EN:PDF


the government – and ofcom – are complicit in this scam.

mj811 says:
16 May 2012

There is also another type of number to be aware of,(and one that I recently found out to my cost when booking a holiday on Teletext Holidays). These are called “like a mobile” numbers and are deliberately designed to mimic a mobile number, because most people get free calls to mobiles as part of their call allowance they are happy to call these numbers expecting them to be within their allowance. However they are premium numbers where the call charge depends on the last 2 digits of the number.

They are



Also beware of numbers allocated to CI and IOM. They are not usually inclusive calls.

val says:
19 May 2012

If a company has an 087 or 084 number I look for an alternative on saynoto 0870. If there isn’t an alternative I will try and email instead. Failing these I will not buy from them and only contact them if they’re available during my freetime calls (0844 is not included). My GP allows online booking so I rarely have to use his iniquitous 0844 number.

Some landline packages may include calls to 0845 and 0870, though this option might not last for much longer.

Other numbers such as 0843, 0844, 0871, 0872 are never inclusive. In those cases try ringing the 03 equivalent on the off-chance it has been activated. 03 numbers are charged at the same rate as 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive minutes in call packages.

0844/0845/0870 etc are revenue sharing numbers where the caller pays more and the callee takes a cut.

they are opaque – unclear – they dont have to say what the calls will cost

they are a blatant ploy to extract money from unwitting or vulnerable phone customers with no benefit accruing to them.

if when challenged they say – oh its a “local call” – that is deception and fraud.

use the saynoto0870 website to find a geographical or sometime free 0800 number.
use the international number if its different – prefix with 141 for hmrc and others who object.
email them or send a message from their website if you can.
boycott them if you have the choice – take your business elswhere
point out the scam to your friends – and also vulnerable/elderly people you know..

i have looked through my files on banks, building societies (mutuals), financial products, insurance

utilites eg fuel , electricity, water, phones

government departments eg hmrc, dhss, dvla

supermarkets tesco .

all these use 084x / 087x revenue sharing numbers.

so the practice is very very widespread , almost UNIVERSAL.

PeterW says:
24 May 2012

It is time for a fundamental change to make charging more transparent to the consumer.

These days nearly all phones have a display screen which is capable of showing a few lines of information.

It should now be made a legal requirement on all telecoms companies to display – for ALL calls made – something like the following on the callers’ phone:

“You have dialled: [e.g] 0207 333 4567
This call will cost [5] p a minute
To avoid this charge hang up now”

Of course the phone companies would resist and this change could only be imposed by Government. Which? could usefully apply some pressure. This kind of innovation ought to be popular with voters!

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].

I have confirmed that the BBC are keen to cover the general issue of rip-off telephone numbers as part of the Rip Off Britain pop-up shop in Gateshead on Sat / Sun 16 / 17 June.

As well as GPs and other NHS providers, this includes HMRC, the DWP benefits agencies, banks, airlines, most call centres and even problems with formally recognised “Premium Rate Service” providers.

Anyone who wants to attend and is happy to be filmed talking about how they have been ripped-off with “an expert” should contact the BBC, via the programme website, as soon as possible.