/ Money, Technology

0845 call charges still too complex

Phones hanging from cord

Think about the last time you called your bank, broadband or utilities provider – did you consider the dialling code first? More importantly did you know how much you’d be charged to call it?

We’ve just investigated call waiting times for the UK’s largest providers to see how long it takes to speak to someone.

We found overall average wait times to be under two minutes, but times for individual calls could be much longer. BT, Scottish & Southern and Lloyds all had one call that lasted at least 10 minutes.

The thing that really struck me, though, wasn’t the wait times themselves but the variation in dialling codes. Not to mention the differing costs to call these numbers depending on your phone provider (and if you’re calling from a landline or a mobile). Both factors make it difficult to work out how much you’ll end up paying.

0870 numbers not always most costly

You’d think you were safe dialling a 0800 number, but if you have to make the call on your mobile you’ll be charged. And it’s not cheap. The main mobile providers charge up to 25p a minute to call an 0800 code – this means a 10 minute call could set you back £2.50.

There may even be some surprises if you call from your landline. We also found that 0845, 0870 and 0844 – the traditional villains of the phone number world – are not always the most expensive numbers to call.

Yes, it’s generally true that you can expect to pay more to call these numbers than those starting with 01, 02 or 03 but it doesn’t always work out this way. BT actually charges less per minute to call an 0845 number than an 01, 02 or 03 code if you’re making a daytime call and you don’t have a calling plan.

Tackling calling confusion

I don’t know about you but I find all this makes predicting the cost of a call rather difficult to say the least. It’s good to hear announcements from Ofcom this week around tackling consumer confusion over call charges. It’s just made a number of proposals with the aim of making non-geographic number pricing clearer and more transparent, which would include making 0800 numbers free from mobiles.

The regulator’s also proposing that the price of a call should be presented to consumers in two parts when they’re choosing offers and bundles. First, they should show the phone company’s charge and then the charge made by the business or organisation being called.

Anything that makes this area clearer and more transparent is a good thing, and we’ll be working closely with Ofcom to ensure this is the result. But do you think these proposals go far enough to help you understand what you’re paying when you dial?

Sophie Gilbert says:
17 December 2010

As far as I’m aware it doesn’t cost more to send a letter from Landsend to John o’ Groats than it does to send one from one street to the next, in spite of differing costs to the Royal Mail. Why can’t it be the same with telephone calls?

Roy Hare says:
6 January 2011

Try sending a parcel to John o’ Groats by Parcelforce etc. At the moment Royal Mail do not vary their charges by distance within the UK but would you have thought a few years ago it would make a price difference depending on what size your Christmas Card was?

Whenever I call an 0845 or 0870 number I check to see if there’s an alternative on the website Say No to 0870 (http://www.saynoto0870.com/) – I often find there is. But I am surprised to hear that calling these numbers from a BT landline is sometimes cheaper than those starting with 01, 02 and 03 – I’d definitely like some better communication on what all these calls cost.

Lesley says:
20 December 2010

I have just been on the call centre for Santander an 0844 number and I the choices are indistinct with the result I got through to a message I didn’t need to hear which was repeated to my intense annoyance before they hung up. The complaints page on the bank web page referred me to a page that included boxes that didn’t work and so you couldn’t get past the first page. When I spoke to the operator that i eventually got through to about why they had stopped my access to my online account, she said it was my fault that the pin no. was blocked and I had to wait up to 14 days before it became accessible again. When I protested that it was not and asked to speak to someone higher up she refused to let me. Christmas time, no access to my main online account at a whim of the bank, for no fault of my own, and who is to pay for if it goes into debit during that time because I am unable to keep track of the out automatic outgoings scheduled? I am furious. 14 days before I get a new pin? Ridiculous, especially when its their fault. It won’t be my bank for much longer.

Grumpy says:
22 December 2010

Try 0800 032 4600 for Abbey National / Abbey / Santander – or what ever they’re called this week.

I am a Virgin Broadband and phone customer – simply because the BT local loop was so bad we couldn’t hear people when it rained! I am priority emergency worker and had a guarenteed service and is was still rubbish.
Virgin (NTL- co-axial DSL) no hassles, ever – 10 years.

BUT Virgin charge 10p /min for 0845 calls making them as expensive as 0870 calls (!)

Recently I had to call a number as I could find no alternative (I love Say No to 0870.com)

It cost me £1.30
A call to my daughter mobile phone would cost a fraction of the price – in fact, it did!

Even more annoying – my GP refuses to give up their 0844 number, despite the NHS PCT, and the Government promising to cease using them. I have even asked the surgery manager – who I know and he has refused. Just wait till he needs emergency care

This would be a GOOD WHICH! Follow up STORY.
(0844 not the evil practice manger)

I have had the same experience with my surgery still using 0844 numbers in spite of the Govt. saying they would stop it on the number10 web site

klint says:
21 December 2010

I used to be an RAC member. Their breakdown number is an 0800 number. I rang them and asked if they had a normal geographic equivalent number for breakdown, but they said the 0800 number was the only option. I guess they thought they were doing us a favour by having a “freefone” 0800 number, but in fact it’s the other way around. The smaller breakdown companies, who have an 01xx number, are cheaper to call, as their number is included in free monthly minutes. Don’t RAC realise that by having an 0800 number, not only do we pay a charge, but they pay it too?

Howard Parrett says:
21 December 2010

Like others, I will also use saynoto0870 to try and find a geographic number – as these are included free in my call package.
I would like to see a requirement that where a business, organisation or service supplier gives an 08** number, then they must also give a geographic number as well.
This would allow the caller a choice of numbers to use

There should be a law requiring all businesses to publish a geographic number.
Why should customers pay premium rates to sort out problems they did not cause? Some Customer Services might improve if they didn’t make so much money out of them.

Even better than that, included in the Queens Speech last week was a reference to a Draft Bill on Consumer Rights. This contains the provision that businesses using a phone line to deal with customer complaints, renewals, faults and other such customer service stuff must use a phone number that is “charged at no more than the basic rate”. The effect of this will be that it will become illegal to use 084, 087 and 09 numbers for those functions. Businesses that require the call queueing facilities available on non-geographic numbers will have to move to the already reserved and matching 034 and 037 numbers or to new 030, 033 or 080 numbers. Others can move back to normal 01 or 02 numbers. There will be no “running expensive numbers in parallel with cheap numbers”. This will be a move from the expensive numbers to the cheap numbers with the expensive number ceasing to be used. This must be passed into law by mid-December 2013 and will apply to all transactions after mid-June 2014. There is no reason why businesses cannot start moving today.

David Ayrton says:
21 December 2010

Most companies, most probably all, have a geographic number but many go out of their way to hide it on their letters and web-pages. Why should this be? If they are only charging the price of a local call, as they often insist, then why does it matter to them if a customer wishes to use a ‘standard’ phone number instead of an 08**? I particularly hate it when the company makes a mistake but I have to pay to contact them to put it right.
All companies should be required to publish their geographic number as an alternative to any 08**. If they only have our best interests at heart then they should not mind at all. On the other hand, if in fact they are making money by restricting our choices, then legislation is needed to stop them ripping us off.

Elizabeth says:
22 December 2010

Many companies – especially financial institutions – give a number to call from overseas. Omit the 44 and substitute 0 and you get the geographic number. It’s usually cheaper and I’ve never yet been put through to a special “overseas caller” department – you just get through to the same call centre. I do this frequently and have never had a problem with it.

I have used saynoto0870 for years and find it very useful. However I am very annoyed that my GP practise uses an 0844 number. This means that I have to pay premium rates to call the surgery!! My call package gives me all 01 02 03 etc number free, but to call for an appointment at the Doctors I have to pay premium rates. Some time back there was a petition on the number 10 web site about this and the reply as that the Dept. of Health was going to stop them using 0844 numbers. But nothing has happened yet. I have complained to the Surgery but get no response.
Anyone know if the Govt. is going to act on this. It seems so unfair that you can call anybody but the Surgery free.

Pauline Conn says:
23 December 2010

January Edition – Call Centre Hang Ups
“If you need to speak to your Broadband Supplier”
You failed to state that Talktalk customers can contact their broadband/telephone providers free of charge; and incidently obtain free advice on problems.
I think this is an important point and if more generally known may well impact on potential new customers.

You’re absolutely right Pauline, and this is a good service provided you’re able to call from your TalkTalk phone line. For anyone who works full time, sometimes this isn’t an option. And the free calls from your TalkTalk landline aren’t much help if you’re calling to report that your phone line isn’t working, in which case you may well be stuck calling from your mobile. I’ve been in that situation myself with another provider who also offers free customer service calls but only if you call from their landline – and very frustrating it was too.

I don’t know if it might help Lesley whose comment appeared yesterday about problems with Santander. The following email actually seemed to have someone responding from Santander:

Complaints.ChairmanCB [at] santander [dot] co [dot] uk

I used it a couple of times when banging my head against a brick wall with Santander & did actually get a response.

Mark Williams says:
23 December 2010

I, too, make extensive use of saynoto0870. Ironically 0870 is now less of a problem, with many operators including 0870 numbers with geographical numbers in their free allowances.

However some companies are not listed on saynoto0870 or have swapped to using 0845 or the really awful 0844, the latter numbers can be charged at many different rates. I literally rung up a fortune on phoning my bank (Abbey) on their 0844 number one month.

I wish all UK companies would publicise their geographical number (they must have one) as this is the most convenient for most since 0845 numbers are not cheaper for anyone anymore. Tariffs must also be made clearer. For a start get rid of many tiered 0844 rates.

Barbara Bailey says:
23 December 2010

My GP also uses an 0844 number. When I asked him why his surgery uses an expensive number he was surprised and said a company (he didn’t specify) had installed a telephone system for their large surgery, with many doctors and nurses, in exchange for a share of the profits. The surgery gets a share as well, I gathered. I said I didn’t agree they should use an 0844 number, making it more expensive for particularly their poorer patients to get in touch. I signed the petition mentioned by Neil Spence as well. Just found this from December 2009:

21st December 2009
Dear Colleague
Re: The use of 084 Numbers – Directions to NHS Bodies
Following a public consultation on the future use of 084 numbers in the NHS, the Department announced on September 14 that it would be prohibiting the use of telephone numbers which charged the patient more than the equivalent
cost of calling a geographical number to contact the NHS. Further information and the findings of the consultation can be found at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/
As a result of the consultation, Directions to Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts, and to Special Health Authorities and NHS Trusts in England (with the exception of NHS Direct NHS Trust) have been issued today (21st December), which instruct those organisations not to use contact telephone numbers which have the effect of the patient paying a premium above the cost of a call to a geographical number. A copy of the Directions
accompanies this letter for your information.
These Directions do not prohibit an organisation from using specific number ranges for the purpose of contacting NHS services. Organisations remain free to use non-geographical number ranges such as 084, providing that patients are not charged more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number to do so.
Yours sincerely,
Nick Hall
Deputy Director

But my surgery still uses the 0844 number, a year later.

Gordon says:
29 December 2010

Has anyone else noticed that when you ask for any type of insurance quotation, you will invariably use an 0800 freephone number, but if and after you have joined them, you will almost certainly never be able to use a free number again.

Gerry says:
3 September 2011

There’s a very simple solution to the 084/087 rip-offs.

Ofcom should open up the parallel 09 number ranges (0942, 0943, 0944, 0945. 0970, 0971, 0972, 0973 etc) then and close all the 084/087 number ranges.

Organisations using 084/087 numbers would be given a simple choice, migrate to the equivalent 03 numbers (which are not surcharged) if they don’t want to rip off their users, or to the 09 numbers if they are greedy.

That way everyone would know where they stood before making a call.

Costs for publicity would be minimal because the universal rule would couldn’t be simpler: “Try 03xx xxx xxxx, then if you don’t get through dial 09xx xxx xxxx”.

So why doesn’t Which? just campaign for this?

I tried several times to speak to e.on to ask them not to increase my standing order by 26% because my account usually has a large credit balance. I rang the 0845 number, pressed the appropriate buttons and listened to half an hour of recorded announcements saying how busy they were. The same happened when I tried again the following day.

On the third occasion I did get through, got what I wanted and had a polite whinge about various other things including the fact that e.on use an 0845 number.

I decided to check my bill and see how much my calls to e.on had cost. Only the final call (around 40p for about 8 minutes) was shown. The much longer calls I had made earlier were not shown. I would like to think I have not been charged when I was kept on hold, but I suspect this is due to a mistake by my phone service provider.

Dave J. says:
13 December 2011

From the article: “The regulator’s also proposing that the price of a call should be presented to consumers in two parts when they’re choosing offers and bundles. First, they should show the phone company’s charge and then the charge made by the business or organisation being called.”

That is a significantly NON-clever idea!

It would encourage telephone companies to pretend that higher charges are justified. It will allow statements like ‘All Weekend Calls Free” despite charges still being levied for certain dialing codes, with the neat ‘justification’ that they are actually paying that amount (whatever they it may be) to the call recipient!

The price of the call is the amount that the customer pays to the telecom provider. End of story. No need for any detail about the provider being stupid enough to give some of the money they ‘earn’ away to the recipient, that is nothing to do with the end-of-the-line customer, it’s not a decision they have made.

The only potential relevance of such a clause is if the telecom company wants to claw some of it back from their customer!

If this proposal is being made by someone genuinely sympathetic to telecommunications users then they should edit that part out forthwith.

Dave J.

Dave J. says:
13 December 2011

Oops! Misread the article, not a submission by a sympathetic body, just another bit of flannel by a regulator (AKA telco sockpuppet) so not much point suggesting improvements 🙁 Apologies for wasted space & for replying to self!

Dave J.

Nick R says:
26 September 2012

Unfortunately I’m out of work, but the biggest misfortune seems to be the cost of contacting the Job Centre by phone. So when they mess things up, its down to you to contact them and pay for it!! If you have to contact them by phone, then its an 0845 number, and as a result of my current circumstances I don’t have access to a land-line, and as such depend on my mobile. I’ve been charged over £5 for a 16 minute conversation (more like 14 minutes of on hold /going through the usual options lists and then a 2 minute conversation). Contacting them by any other means seems impossible, they simply kick me out of the local centre if I don’t have a set meeting, email, if you actually have one, goes nowhere! Being on benefits is hard enough without having to then pay through the nose to contact them! Something’s just not right about that!

If you search on SayNoTo0870.com you’ll find hundreds of JobCentre geographic numbers. There are also many 0800 numbers which are free from payphones.

If all else fails, call the centre that’s nearest to you and ask to be transferred or called back.

If you can’t find the geographic number for the JobCentre you wish to call, you could always try submitting a Freedom of Information request.

When you’ve found the number, don’t forget to post it on SayNoTo0870.com !