/ Technology

Does the UK’s Speaking Clock cost too much?

Mobile phone next to coins and credit card

Calling the 123 Speaking Clock now costs at least 39p. It’s probably not something you’re too concerned about, until you spot the phone number mysteriously appearing on your landline phone bill.

The cost of calling BT’s 79-year-old Speaking Clock has climbed steadily in recent years and costs at least five times more than other countries that offer a similar service.

Speaking clock chargesIn 2003, the 10p charge for the Speaking Clock was close to the national rate, but it doubled to 20p in 2004 and now costs 39-50p depending on your phone provider.

Calling the clock in the Netherlands costs just 7p, Iceland’s ‘Klukken’ is around 12p, Ireland and Germany cost 14p, and it’s free in Chile. Only France’s 82-year old ‘L’horloge parlante’ is more expensive, at 56p.

Mystery 123 phone calls

Last year, we reported on landline owners who had been charged for mystery calls and said that engineers testing lines could be the cause. And we’ve had 150 comments about this here on Which? Convo, including from Lindsey:

‘Yep, just looked at my bill and there’s a call to 123 charging me 36p. Funny that I don’t even have my house phone plugged in. To top it off there was an engineer in my street the day of the call! Annoyed.’

Openreach said it was unaware of any issues but later apologised to customers and told engineers not to make calls on customer lines or boxes.

Despite this, you’ve told us it’s still an issue – but phone providers don’t always refund the charges and won’t block the 123 number. Yet we had no joy when we asked BT to consider making calls free, or cheaper, to help.

Top 123 tips

1. Save money, check the time online.
2. Check your bill for 123 calls – report any to your provider.
3. Blocking calls – phones featuring call barring can block specific numbers for outgoing and incoming calls.

Have you noticed any mystery 123 speaking clock calls on your phone bill?


I think I’ll ring the Netherlands next time I want to know the time [unless there’s a handy policeman passing].

I’d be interested to know how many calls are made to the UK speaking clock these days given that we all have access to an accurate time check on so many devices.

Actually the time doesn’t bother me – it’s the date and day of the week I lose track of.

James Slevin says:
19 October 2017

I had 123 appear on my BT bill randomly. Called BT and they removed. It’s only a small amount but it’s the principle. 45p this time, what next? They soon add up these little charges.

Okan abraham says:
29 May 2018

I love the company

Okan abraham says:
28 June 2018

I love it


“Yet we had no joy when we asked BT to consider making calls free, or cheaper, to help.”

Cheaper is no help when someone is making unauthorised calls to that number. Indeed, it might make it harder to get a refund. Additionally, engineers who make these calls are less likely to stop if they know the impact is only a few pence each time.

“Blocking calls – phones featuring call barring can block specific numbers for outgoing and incoming calls.”

Blocking numbers being dialled from your own handset is of no use in stopping engineers using their own handset to call these numbers when testing the line.


You are conflating two separate issues: the cost of the speaking clock and engineers using it to test phone lines. It’s difficult to imagine a circumstance where you’d want to call the speaking clock these days, it must be a very niche thing to do, the cost is scarcely relevant to all but a very few. If you or anyone else wants to test the line they can simply call 1471.

Phil says:
29 August 2015

Network Rail requires signal boxes and stations to check their clocks once a day. Unless the clocks are radio controlled (does anyone still call them Rugby Clocks?) the Speaking Clock is the preferred method.


The Speaking Clock is a wasteful method for National Rail to prefer. They could use an NTP (Network Time Protocol) server via a mobile device, which costs nothing except for a negligible amount of mobile data traffic.

Phil says:
29 August 2015

Except the use of mobile devices is prohibited in signal boxes.