/ Technology

Companies ring the changes, but not all of them are in tune

Costly calls campaign image

It’s seven weeks since the new law banning companies from using pricey phone numbers came into force. By and large it shouldn’t cost more than the basic rate to call customer services, but not all firms got the message.

The good news is that lots of companies have made the effort to change their numbers, from Sky to the Student Loans Company. Both have switched 084 and 087 numbers for an 03 alternative.

This will please our Costly Calls campaign supporter Eleanor, who told us earlier in the year:

‘It’s disgusting that it’s an 0845 number to call Student Finance England. Students are a group of people who can least afford to be wasting money on phone bills, especially when the #1 reason for calling SFE is that they’ve messed your application up and you have’t got any money…’

Lloyd was similarly outraged:

‘Student Finance England; I called from my mobile as it was an emergency and was on the phone for roughly an hour (lots of the time spent on hold) and it cost me over £20!’

Thanks to supporters like Eleanor and Lloyd, you can now contact Student Finance England on 0300 100 0607.

Costly to call customer care

I’ve actually just got back from a two week holiday, where everything went well – except the airline I was flying with lost my bag. You can imagine my further frustration when I discovered that their website lists an 0843 number for ‘customer care’. Needless to say, I emailed them.

From your comments, I wasn’t alone in my findings. Lots of you have discovered companies still using pricey numbers, and some of you challenged them directly. H Samuel, Yorkshire Water and Morrisons are just some of the firms you told us about and who have  now switched from 0845 numbers to an 03 alternative. Here’s how Yokshire Water responded to Newt Beaumont’s challenge:

For all those still dragging their heels on switching their numbers, I can’t help but feel it reflects how they value customers.

They had plenty of notice

On the day the law came in, I wondered how long it would take for IT and marketing departments to get up to speed. Sure enough, there are examples of different contact numbers appearing on different pages of the same website, while every day on my way to work I see my train company’s 0845 customer services number staring down at me from the poster in the carriage. Is it too much to ask why, having been given six months’ notice, these things weren’t planned?

So it looks like we’ll have to continue flagging the new law to those slow on the uptake.

Watch out for unofficial numbers

One last tip – when searching online, make sure you click on the company’s website to get their official phone number. Pricey 084 or 087 customer service numbers may still come up on Google and other search engines. Oh, and beware websites that list companies’ contact numbers – they might not be the same number and you could end paying extra for them to connect you.

Have you seen companies ditching pricey contact phone numbers? Or have you spotted companies that are still breaking the new rules?

Maria Hewitt says:
2 August 2014

nationwide still have 0845 number on 1st July

Thanks for letting us know Maria, we’ll get in touch as they have pledged to switch to 0800 for customers http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/premium-rate-phone-numbers/fca-bank-insurer-costly-calls-campaign-win/

What about mobile users, 0800 numbers and 0345/0300 are still charged heavily for us and I believe on landlines other than for those people who use BT? Can mobile operators be brought into line so that we all benefit fro low cost calls?

Ian says:
2 August 2014

Calls to 03 numbers cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and mobiles. This Ofcom rule has been in place since 2007. If you are paying a lot to call 01, 02 and 03 numbers you are on the wrong price plan or with the wrong phone provider. Most people do not pay for these calls individually, they are part of an inclusive price plan.

The running costs of 080 numbers are currently much higher than those for 03 numbers. With 080 numbers the user also has to compensate the caller’s provider for connecting the call. Calls to 080 numbers will become free from all mobile phones on 26 June 2015 and the fees that users of 080 numbers pay for incoming calls will sharply increase at that point.

Sam says:
2 August 2014

Cooperative banks customer enquiries 24/7 still maintain their 0845 lines. Shame on the coop yet again.

Dirk Olsen says:
2 August 2014

Well, I dialed up Barclays bank online banking service but was informed that it was not possible due to a fault but to call n 0845 number to get it sorted. I clled ut on hold with a recorded voice tlling me all sort f things etc. then was cnnected to an operator with a very strong Indian or Pakistani accent which I ha problems understanding and h proble was not fixed but the call cost me £3.25. That’s Barclays!!!!!!

Thomson continue to use 0844 and 0845 numbers in connection with amendments to flights and holidays.

Geoffrey Dunster says:
2 August 2014

Brittany Ferries charge 10P a minute to talk to their reservations department to book……like M&S charging you to enter their stores to spend money with them!

Happily managed to trace a local number for them = 01752 668625 or 227941

John Boyle says:
2 August 2014

I had reason to contact DWP and HM Revenue and Customs, but when I realised they were 0845 numbers I decided to attempt an email correspondence. Surely these extremely important organisations cannot justify charging such high rates for conversations which are usually concerning financial matters,when any additional expenditure to the caller is likely to add to their problems. In addition the amount of time you are left on `hold` is usually excessive.

Ian says:
2 August 2014

HMRC changed their expensive 0845 and 0870 lines over to new 0300 and 0345 numbers in several batches between April and October 2013. After the Cabinet Office issued guidance in December 2013, DWP changed most of their 0845 lines over to new 0345 numbers on 17 March 2014.

I have a Asda credit card which I hardly use. They wrote to me saying they were closing my account unless I contacted them on a 0871 number. Nice one Asda I don’t want your credit card anymore.

Mike says:
2 August 2014

I notice that 101 the police non-emergency number, when
dialed from my ‘3 mobile’ phone costs 15p per minute, although I have an
unlimited calls tarriff.

101 is an oddball number. The cost is 15p per call from both landline and mobile phones and is not included in ‘free’ mobile call allowances.

Mike says:
3 August 2014

The purpose of my post was to bring the 1xx numbers into the debate.

in my view 101 111 112 15x and 999 should be in the same calls package
with 01-,02-,03-.

Charging for the directory inquiries numbers is fair enough – though
expensive, but use it if you want.
(Maybe they are all now 6 figure numbers – 118xxx )

Perhaps what I really want is 0345 101 etc to be available alternates for
those with a relevant call packages……

Yes, this is interesting to discuss. I know the 111 (NHS) and 112 (alternative to 999) are free from any landline or mobile.

Ian says:
3 August 2014

The various 116 helplines are also free calls from landlines and mobiles.

The cost of calling 101 is a non-issue.

Every police force is required by the Home Office to advertise a standard 01, 02 or 03 number along side 101. This is for use by those who are unwilling or unable to call 101.

These alternative numbers are of most use to those who need to call a non-local police force or who are calling from abroad. Only one force has not complied and continues to advertise an 0845 number.

National Express and Traveline still use expensive numbers.

Ron Bebbington says:
3 August 2014

Santander Bank still use 0845 for any enquiries

Yesterday I ordered a DVD from a company called acorndvd.com. While they do have the 03 number on there website, the 2 e-mails they sent me both say an 0845.

The “Thank you for your order” e-mail said….
“If you have any questions about your order please contact us at customerservices@acorndvd.com or call us at 0845 123 2312 Monday – Friday, 9am – 5.30pm.”

Plus the 2nd e-mail (that was sent to me in error said….
“Got a question? Call us at 0845 123 2312. We’re here to help!”

While It’s good they have a 03 number, they should update ALL outgoing e-mails. It’s really put me off this company now, if they can’t even update order e-mails what can they do?

Long ago in January Which trumpeted that the Cabinet Office was going to ensure that Government services and departments would move off non-geographic numbers . . . .

A friend, a minimum wage zero hour contract carer came to me this morning for help with her Criminal Record Check at the new Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) on the Government website which now does these things.

Well, not only is it a creaky badly designed system requiring multiple phone calls but these phone calls are to 0870 numbers not even 0845. They are still making money out of those least able to pay, low paid carers because of the nature of their job often conduct their lives on mobiles between calls to their clients. The phone bills for these enforced requirements to be met are horrific.

I tried saynoto0870 but the ‘ordinary’ number for the DBS has been barred leaving only the 0870 numbers.

So, what can be done to get our sainted Cabinet Office to actually do what it says it will do with the public sector compliance issues these many months later?

Mike says:
4 August 2014

Send this account of the current situation to your MP
Ask him why this situation has been allowed to continue.
Ask him what he will do to oblige the dbs to toe the line on 0870 numbers
Ask him why the cabinet office were unaware of the problem when they had said they would ensure compliance.
Embarass the civil servants that are advising government to promise action that they are not equipped to deliver

Hi Martin, we’ve been in touch with the Cabinet Office. DBS have confirmed that they are committed to providing the best and cheapest service they can for their customers, and as such have formally asked their private IT and telephony partner to change all their 0870 numbers to an 030 number as a matter of urgency, to fall into line with best practice. DBS hope to have 030 or 01 numbers for all of their services within the next couple of months.

@Patrick, So they’re already almost 3 months late to the party and are now only just getting round to it. Sign.

So much for the Cabinet Office, I thought I’d enquire myself as to how compliance was being ensured. No one knew who was responsible and after being passed around I was eventually forwarded to an extension where ‘someone might know’ only for it to ring out until it fell over with exhaustion.

So I guess we will just have to put up with the Government making money from calls into the DBS!

Amazing, the 0870 numbers remain but a click through now takes a reader through to https://www.gov.uk/call-charges which is a chart to tell you how much you are being ripped off depending on the number and the type of network connection used!

Cynical or what?

Martin says:
11 August 2014

That government call charges page says 0870 numbers cost up to 40p/min. Likewise it says 03 numbers also cost up to 40p/min.

It rather looks like 03 numbers are just another con trick foisted on the gullible…

Sadly the Ofcom call charges information can be very misleading, as it only shows the extremes of possible charges under the current messy regime. (This has been copied by the government and others, omitting certain caveats, as they are apparently happy to pass on a misleading message.)

All will be simplified when the “unbundled tariff” comes into force in June 2015, separating the Service Charges associated with 084, 087 and 09 numbers from the Access Charges added by the telephone service providers.

Please be assured that there is no con trick with 03. Operators are required by regulation to charge no more than the cost (if any) of a call to a 01/02 number and, so far as we are aware, every single operator complies in all cases.

High charges for calling 01/02/03 numbers mostly arise as “penalty charges” levied on those who exceed the limits of their chosen call plan or bundle. In most cases, such calls are made without incurring any charge – the cost is covered by the cost of the plan or bundle.

All calls to 080 numbers incur a charge to the benefit of the telephone company. This is paid by whoever receives the call and the cost is reflected in some way in their charges or funding.

T-mac says:
4 August 2014

Two weeks ago I had to call New Day Ltd (subsidiary company of Santander) who look after accounts
for Debenham customers. They are using an 0844 number. Having gone through the “automated service provided for a quick and easy way to answer routine enquiries” I then waited patiently to speak to someone in the accounts department only to be told that there was no one available and could I please phone back!! Is there no way of penalising these firms?

T-mac says:
4 August 2014

Two weeks ago I had occasion to contact New Day Ltd. (a subsidiary company of Santander)
looking after accounts for Debenhams. The phone number on the Debenhams statement
still shows the 0844 number. Having dialled through to the “automated service provided for a quick and easy way to answer routine enquiries” and waited patiently to be put through to the accounts
section I was then told to phone back as there was no one available to take my call.
Surely there must be some way to penalise these firms.

Ferreting around to find my membership card to English Heritage I realised that my last received one was out of date and that I should have had a replacement . . . I went to ‘phone English Heritage only to find – Yes, you guessed it – 0870 numbers for membership enquiries and ‘Customer Care’.

There was an alternative number on ‘SayNoTo0870’ so I was able to use that. A good thing too as I have written this so far whilst on hold with a machine telling me that ‘they are busy’.

Have spoken to EH now, a really helpful ‘agent’ who took my complaint about paying to visit customer services seriously. I don’t mind paying the cost of an ordinary call but it gets my goat when any organisation (and the Telco behind them) makes money out of routine or customer service calls!

The fair telecoms campaign is delighted to enjoy support from Which? over this issue, albeit seriously belated and missing the point on some issues.

It is a disgrace that Nationwide has switched to 080 numbers imposing unnecessary additional costs on its owner/members in running the service and premium costs on callers from mobiles. Although the latter will be relieved in June 2015, this will have the effect of increasing the former. Nothing in life is “free”. The interests of consumers are not well served by alleged “free deals” as any sound and responsible business will be recovering its costs in other ways. 03 numbers offer a perfectly acceptable means of offering normal telephone access where a non-geographic number is most suitable. All 08 numbers do little more than help the telecoms companies, with assured revenue from every call.

Pressure on the FCA to align with the 13 June 2014 timeline for requirements to parallel those of the Consumer Contract Regulations was well established in the Summer of 2013. When Which? took over the role of pressing for this with the launch of its “costly calls” campaign in September 2013, the sense of urgency was apparently lost as now a consultation is expected by the end of 2014.

Consumers are not well served by those who misrepresent situations. Any commercial organisation is entitled to a little hyperbole as it promotes itself, however Which? continues to be carried away with the significance of its role in this issue. Our efforts to diminish the misuse of expensive telephone numbers have been complex, taken place over a very long period and involved many different channels. We are grateful for the positive contributions that Which? has made, but are disappointed at its public misrepresentations, which seem to be prompted by nothing more than a desire to attribute credit to itself.

The fair telecoms campaign has no desire to rival Which? as a publisher, Which? Conversation, or the SayNoTo0870 discussion forum. We are however keen to communicate accurate information (including on BBC Radio 4 You and Yours today) and pleased to receive information about breaches of regulations and government directions through the contact form on our website.

“It is a disgrace that Nationwide has switched to 080 numbers imposing unnecessary additional costs on its owner/members in running the service and premium costs on callers from mobiles.”

This is what the energy company SSE have done, moved to all 080 number and not even bothered giving out 03 numbers.

But I must point out both the Nationwide and SSE will call you back if you ask them to via social media. So it’s no cost to you. I know this is not perfect. But it’s a help for people who use social media like me.

It is fair enough for a company to use telephone conversations in support of contact by other means, but the issue is about contact by telephone.

The point that needs to be recognised is that the only people who benefit from use of 080, rather than 03, numbers are those who are normally paying for their telephone calls to ordinary numbers. In most cases I am sure that Which? would advise that they have probably selected (or been misdirected to select) the wrong telephone tariff for their needs.and so are being ripped-off on their ordinary calls.

We also need to understand that, until the change that will come into effect on 26 June 2015, mobile callers (with an appropriate tariff) incur no charge when calling 03 numbers, but pay a premium to call 080 numbers.

If we are looking at mutuals (e.g. Nationwide), public bodies or any commercial organisation that reflects its costs in its charges, we must remember that we bear the increased cost of them using 080 numbers indirectly. It may be fairly said that the only beneficiaries from every call to a 080 number are the telephone companies.

(The tip about call-backs is well made, but this only mitigates the effect of a bad decision, it does not excuse it.)

Surely criticisms of 0800 numbers should be levelled at ofcom, they have for no good reason delayed making them free to mobiles customers for too long now. 26 June 2015 is just more proof of that.

I am inclined to agree that users of 080 numbers should have been required to meet the full cost of all calls (including those originated by mobile companies) all along – back to the days of Oftel.

It is only now that mobile companies have been required, by Ofcom, to accept less income from call charges that this move has become possible. Were it not for strong objections and threats of legal challenge from some of the telcos, the package of measures would have been in effect before now.

We have argued that the two components of the “simplifying non-geographic numbers” package could have been implemented separately, given that the 18 month implementation timeframe is largely due to the work associated with implementing the “unbundled tariff”. Ofcom has however been resolute in keeping it all together. I am not sure what that proves!

Another company crossed off my list . . . Affordable Car Hire have an 0844 number and, not only that but they are doing a promotion with Wowcher in which rates seem to have been put up on the special click through section so the voucher discount is off an inflated rate.

More than a bit naughty I thought.

@martin, Don’t forget that sales lines aren’t covered by these new rules. If companies want to rip off new customers they can 🙁

Ian says:
8 August 2014

From 26 June 2015, all users of 084, 087 and 09 numbers will be required to state their Service Charge wherever their number is advertised thus making it clear they are financially benefitting from the call. This should cause many of the users of these numbers to re-evaluate their usage.

Thanks . . . it’s not just a sales line though, it’s their only line so it takes complaints too . . . which, thinking about it, was what I last used it for when a promised discount failed to appear.

Ian says:
8 August 2014

If it is their only telephone line then it has to comply with paragraph 41 of the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013. This is because callers may be calling it about post sales enquiries.

MrP says:
9 August 2014

Nationwide in a press release in March 2014 said they were going to introduce a 0345 number for complaints for the benefit of mobile users .

I have not seen one published,but on their site they do discuss cost of calls to 0345 numbers.

Has it been put on back burner i wonder.

A quick look shows that the web page “Make a Complaint” – http://www.nationwide.co.uk/support/contact-us/make-a-complaint- offers a 0345 alternative to the 0800 number for mobile callers for this purpose alone.

If I were a customer/member of Nationwide who generally used a mobile phone, I would be inclined to phone the number (0345 7 302015) to complain about the society wasted our money needlessly paying to receive phone calls from those who could call 03 numbers at no cost (inclusive) whilst also causing me to incur additional costs for other telephone contact.

I might also be inclined to ask which idiots advised them to take the 0800 route – presumably someone representing the interests of the telephone companies! We all know who celebrated this poor decision!