/ Technology

It’s bad not to talk on BT’s line rental deal

Landline phone

BT’s been in the news again. Turns out some BT customers aren’t happy with their call charges. Nothing out of the ordinary there, you might think – until you find out that the charges are for calls that aren’t even made.

And we’re not talking billing mistakes – BT charge customers on a certain tariff £1.50 a month because they haven’t made any calls.

BT’s ‘Line Rental Saver’ costs £120 for a year’s line rental if paid up front, as opposed to more than £166 if you pay by monthly or quarterly direct debit – a sizeable saving. The catch is that you must make two BT calls per month, or pay a fixed £1.50 fee.

Putting aside whether this charge is fair, what about transparency? BT told us that the £1.50 charge is ‘prominent on its website and in the customer FAQs’. But when I checked, the clause was clearer on some pages than others.

Are the line rental terms clear?

Navigate to BT’s home phone deals from its home page, click on any of the links that state ‘Line rental from £10’ and the terms are clearly displayed. However, a Google search on ‘BT line rental’ took me to a different page, where this call requirement is only in ‘The legal stuff’ at the bottom of the page.

Clearly, this can’t be that ‘prominent’ as BT had failed to notice that the charge was wrongly listed here as £1.80 (BT’s promised to get this changed urgently after I pointed this out).

You can start your order directly from either page, so I reckon these terms should be made clear on both. There is the possibility that you’re confronted with these terms again during the sign up process, but I was unable to test this as I didn’t want to risk inadvertently switching!

Unfair? Probably not. Bonkers? Yes

You could argue that, as long as it’s clear and up front, the charge isn’t actually ‘unfair’. However, it is a barrier to getting cut-price BT line rental. It also seems a bit bonkers to charge for not providing a service, especially when those two calls could potentially be made on weekends for free under BT’s Unlimited Weekend Calls package (which has no monthly charge). BT’s terms don’t seem to require the two calls to be chargeable ones.

I also wonder if BT is missing a trick by failing to cater to those who just need a fixed phone line for broadband, preferring to use their mobile to make calls. It’s particularly strange when, according to the BT website, ‘Line Rental Saver isn’t available if you’ve ordered a new line without broadband’.

As yet, it’s not possible to get fixed-line broadband without paying for line rental in the UK, unless you have Virgin Media cable. But there are cheaper alternatives around. O2’s PAYG line rental, for example (only available with O2 broadband) offers a straight line rental deal for £7.50 a month.

Even if you’re a regular caller, you could save money by ensuring you’re on the right deal. BT’s Line Rental Saver is one way to cut costs and will suit some down to the ground. But as our guides to home phone services and phone bundles show, there are plenty of other options out there too.

Seat Pitch says:
22 June 2011

We only need a landline for broadband as we make 90% of our calls on mobiles. However, in a new house, outside of Virgin Media cable territory, we signed up for BT’s special offer of a £29.99 connection on an 18-month contract at £11.54 a month — which has now increased to £13.90.

Our broadband is with O2 but we couldn’t take their landline offer with an existing line.

For the first eight months or so we made 10 calls or more a month but have recently fallen foul of the small print that states:

‘Minimum call commitment applies – you must make at least 10 chargeable or inclusive calls per month (30 calls per quarter). You’ll need to pay a charge of £5.15 for every month (if you are billed monthly) or £15.45 for every quarter (if you’re billed quarterly) in which you don’t make these calls, as compensation for not making the minimum number of calls required.’

So we’re now £10.30 lighter of pocket for two months where we made around three-four calls short of the ‘minimum call commitment’. The alternative is making 10 consecutive calls to any freephone number once a month — pretty ridiculous really.

Yes, we signed the contract. Yes, we read the small print. But it’s hardly encouraging loyalty is it?

Having had issues with BT in the past we were planning on changing line rental provider as soon as the contract was up but this has ensured we’ll be moving on…

The BT site is a mess, trying to find simple lists of what is available and how to order or switch to various plans is not easy.
The 12 months Line Rental saver isnt even mentioned on some pages.

Finding a number to ring or an email is even more difficult , contact us gives you options for differnet issues with no contact details if your issue isnt in the list.

When I signed up for the £120 deal over the phone, I was advised very clearly that I must make at least two calls per month. They don’t have to be chargeable calls so, since you get free weekend calls to 01/02/03/0845/0870 numbers, it isn’t difficult to stick to the rules and doesn’t cost anything. You’ll probably find you get much better call quality on your landline too, which people you phone will appreciate, even if you don’t notice or care.

PS And, if your answer is that you can’t make calls because you don’t have a phone attached to your landline, you should get one, even if only in case of mobile network problems when the day comes that you need to call the emergency services. Phones, even decent quality DECT ones, can be picked up very cheaply.

Sybilmari says:
28 June 2011

It is high time BT was made to account for all its tricks to take money off customers. I called them for a line repair which had happened on 3 previous occasions – exactly the same fault in their connections outside of my property causing crossed lines, fuzziness and conversations cutting out. The engineer said there was no fault according to his equipment. He then disconnected the wires in the pole in the street, faffed around, reconnected the wires. Hey presto – problem solved (at least for now!). BT insisted there was no fault and charged me nearly £130 for the callout. When fighting this I was told by a person working at BT “you would not believe the number of complaints we are getting about this issue!” My bank reimbursed the money to me and got it back from BT. BT still insist I owe it. Currently the matter is with OTELO. As Openreach is owned by BT I suspect this is a racket, especially as the engineer would not look at me when telling me there was nothing wrong with the line. It’s all about profit and greed.

just switched to sky after 25+ years with bt.
we have had sky free talk for two years and paid bt for line rental only to be charged quarterly £7.50 for caller id – which fails to work most of the time since we dont make enough calls which is impossible to do as our calls are with sky.
goodbye letter from bt very emotive and suggest maybe we have been ‘conned’ to move – well for bt to know, sky line rental is cheaper and calls not an issue due to low lever of use (mainly use mobile)
goodbye bt, i cant say u will be missed apart from the dividend on the shares…

Shirley Hiscox says:
28 June 2011

I have had a BT landline for many years but have calls & broadband via Tiscali/TalkTalk. However, I am charged by BT for an Unlimited Weekend plan which includesline rental and a calling plan which is of no use to me as my calls are routed to TalkTalk and do not go via BT. Therefore the package is useless. All BT can say is that it is included. Well, I didn’t want anything included – just a simple landline rental.

Damn Young says:
17 July 2011

About 4 years ago BT sent me a letter, saying that if I remained a customer after a certain date, I will be deemed to have entered a contract to pay their billing susidiary an extra £4.50 each time I pay my bill. This is because I have always paid by cash in full at a paypoint. This was theft, so I told them to take the phone away, after being a customer for about 28 years.
They had made easy money out of me, as I hardly used the phone, but because of their greed, they now make no money at all out of me.
Although expensive to use, my orange pay as you go mobile is cheap to not use.
Being without a landline is bliss. No more salesmen spoiling my weekends. When the mobile phone annoys me I’ll chuck that as well.

Marcus says:
6 December 2011

I called BT to discuss the Line Saver option and was not advised of the need to make 2 calls a month by the hard to communicate with Indian Customer Service adviser. However it gets worse, BT has with effect from 3 Dec 11 removed the discount for Paperless Billing making it a condition of the Line Saver option, which in effect is an increase in the cost of your existing contract, unless of course it it fortuitously ends on 3 Dec. However there is no option on line to reinstate the paper bills if you do not take up Line Saver. To cap it all, if you do elect to make the 12 month up front Line Saver payment mid-term of your contract, and you subsequently do not renew your Call Plan contract, you forfeit the line rental for the months after your Call Plan contract ends. If you push BT will cease your existing Call Plan contract and issue a new 12 month contract synchronising it to the Line Saver deal but you have to ask for it! And yes I agree the web site is appalling.

isabella says:
13 December 2011

i was offered the line rental saver deal in an email chat today. the conditions were that i paid the £120 up front and bundled calls on to my existing BT broadband and line rental only service – currently tariffed at over £32!!!! the saving overall on the offer made brings the costs down to just over £18 per month. when calling to make the payment of the advance line rental i was then informed of the calling condition attached to the line rental saver. this was not highlighted in my email chat although a link to the BT.com line rental saver information was provided. the first page you land on does not highlight the condition, neither does the second. you click Legal Stuff and it takes you to another non transparent page where you have to click Legal Stuff again. To my mind this is not transparent. beyond the email exchange which was quick to highlight the so called saving irrespective of conditions (which i cannot qualify for as the home in question is hundreds of miles from where i live as it is a holiday home). despite explaining this to BT when trying to pay i get told well if you use the weekend/evening option you won’t be charged – but i physically can’t unless i happen to be there one of the couple of times i year i use the home!! i do not agree that the charge is fair as the condition was buried in a link in my email exchange pursuant to which i accepted the deal (in my world this is a contract) when i have subsequently clicked the link, click 1 i have then had to click twice further to get to the actual legal stuff. three links too far following an email exchange quick to highlight the benefits (but not the disbenefits of the deal). i have complained.

A reason why I left BT at the earliest opportunity was because they tried to charge me for £90 worth of reverse charge calls that did not exist. I carefully explained my dogs do not answer my telephone in my absence and the answer phone showed no signs of requests for reverse charges,

However I received several demands – I retaliated by simply paying my bill not including the reverse charges – After THREE months of constant demands they stopped. I joined Virgin (was Cable and Wireless) Never had a reverse charge demand since.

Max Ivory says:
9 May 2012


I rent a BT line just for internet purposes and have just discovered they are charging me £7.85 a month penalty fees for NOT using my phone!! (see below)

This seems not only counter intuitive but also a bit excessive. When you rent a car would you expect to pay extra for not driving enough miles in it? BT need to address this and just decide what their line rental cost is and make it transparent. Now I will just have to waste time making 2 fake calls a month. All very silly.


One-off charges More information Minimum calls fee
The minimum calls have not been made. To avoid future charges, make 2 chargeable or inclusive calls per month or more with BT £2.70

Connection Offer Fee 25 Apr 12 The minimum calls have not been made. To avoid future charges, make 10 chargeable or inclusive calls per month or more with BT £5.15

Total one-off charges £7.85

I used to keep a Vodafone mobile in the car for emergency use and had to make a call every 30 days to prevent disconnection, but your charge beats mine for silliness.

Maybe Which? could set up a Conversation to find out the daftest charges imposed on the general public.

welshnanny says:
18 May 2012

I have not been at home for 6 weeks due to family circumstances,in fact I’m 350 miles away from home caring for a family member.I got my online phone bill from BT and was a bit gobsmacked to see the penalty charge .

After phoning them up to query the charge of £2.70 for not making 2 calls,I was told by a jobsworth called Amo in the BT Billing dept that I should have left a key with someone to go in to my house and make 2 calls!! I really couldn’t believe my ears and said so,has the world gone mad????

Maybe I should have said put the gas fire full on incase I get charged for not using enough gas and leave all the lights on or Scottish Power will penalise me for not using electricity,oh and better leave Sky on too,I have to watch 2 films a month oh and by the way leave all the taps running,can’t have the Water Board charging me for under use of my utility in this drought…….ffs

Peter says:
31 December 2012

The ‘line rental’ should cover the cost of renting the line, i.e. if you don’t use the line at all, the line rental is what you pay. If BT want to charge £1.50 more, they should increase the cost of the line rental, not add a hidden charge which they can avoid mentioning in any of their adverts.

I don’t mind paying more if necessary; what I object to is the attempt to mislead consumers.

John says:
18 March 2013

I had a Line Saver option that cost £120 making a considerable saving. I was not informed when the contract ended. As I pay by direct debt I don’t receive a written bill so it was a surprise to see my payments had doubled, when I finally checked by bank statements. It was not until I contacted BT that the increases were explained and I renewed the Line Saver option. I feel that BT should have informed me before taking the extra money from my account. I feel very strongly that BT has abused their privilege of access to my bank account. I also find it very difficult to describe their customer services without swearing. BT Customer Service is a misuse of the title. Service means helping the customer not sharp practice to gain a few pounds.

If you are referring to a Direct Debit, you should have been informed in advance of any change in payment. See: http://www.bacs.co.uk/Bacs/Businesses/DirectDebit/Collecting/Pages/CustomersRights.aspx

If BT has not played by the rules, simply contact your bank and copy the information to BT out of courtesy.

Vic Christopher says:
14 January 2014

My father is totally deaf and therefore cannot use his land line but has to have it because he has emergency link system to notify that there is an emergency. He has told me that he being charged £6 pound a quarter if he does not make at least two calls per month. How can BT be allowed to do this to someone who is unable to use the phone because of his disability.

a ireland says:
26 February 2015

I have phone broadband and internet with bt I pay monthly when bill comes in at my bank for doing this I am charged £2 for paper bill and £2 extra on my phone line which is £18.99p a month this should not be allowed. also moved house in sept had 6mths left on old package could not cancel so had to take bt with me then told no fibre optic in the area so I had to change package suiting them when year up I will be leaving them terrible service

Myrtle McFarland says:
12 December 2015

I thought I’d save money on line rental saver but BT has been taking the savings back by sending bills monthly instead of one bill every three months, at a paper charge of £1.70 per month giving me a loss of £3.40 every three months. When I complained they said it was their policy to change customers to a monthly billing system when they pay their line rental a year in advance