/ Technology

Your view: mystery calls on your phone bill

Landline phones hanging

After one Which? member told us about a charge for a phantom speaking clock call, it sparked our interest. When we opened it to the floor to get your opinion, it turned out this wasn’t the only one…

Understandably many of you were frustrated with these mystery calls. NFH was confused as to why engineers needed to call ‘123’ to test phone lines:

‘I caught an engineer dialling 123 to test my line while in my home and I voiced my disapproval. I don’t understand why the engineers use a chargeable number for test calls. There are plenty of other free alternatives without having to waste customers’ money.’

But HAB really bore the brunt of it when he was charged when the engineer wasn’t even fixing his line:

‘My wife and I remembered there had been an engineer up the pole in a neighbour’s garden on the date, and time, that the calls appeared on the bill. The irony of it was that we didn’t have a fault, so the fault must have been on someone else’s line…’

But is it down to the engineers?

Ddenmik said his provider thought his (non-existent) Sky box might be to blame:

‘I had a charge for speaking clock some months ago with BT. When I pointed out that no one was in the house at the time of the alleged call, the money was refunded. However, I was asked if I had a Sky box (I don’t) as this appliance can, I was advised, sometime trigger calls of this type.’

However, Cherry was hit by a spate of 123 calls:

‘I had a series of about eight 123 calls on my bill the day a BT Openreach engineer visited to investigate a fault on my phone.’

Cherry later added: ‘It was actually 18 calls – just rechecked the bill!’

Struggling to get a refund?

It seems you’ve had varying luck on getting your calls refunded. Luckily, K Brockenhurst found it as easy as 1, 2, 3:

‘We were charged 50p last month for a speaking clock call we did not make. I phoned Talk Talk and they said it had been reported to them and someone must have made it, but they gave us an immediate refund without any problem.’

Mike, on the other hand, hit a brick wall and has even set up a family cooperative to show is disapproval:

‘My mother who is elderly and living on a small pension received a bill from Talk Talk with a call added to the speaking clock for over £5 – after much hassle with them they very begrudgingly refunded the money. We have now left Talk Talk for good and we have created a large family cooperative so any bad practices from utility companies we all leave en mass and do not return.’

More than just 123

And then there’s D.A. Watson, who spotted directory enquiry calls on his bill:

‘My August landline account from EE included a charge of £5.00 against a purported call to 118500, directory enquiries. Neither my wife nor myself were at home at the time of the call.’

Have you spotted mystery phone calls on your bill? Did you attempt to get a refund?


I spotted a large number of calls from my landline to my mobile. It turns out that if you use the BT Call Diversion service, you pay the cost of a call to your mobile every time someone rings on your landline. I can’t find any reference to this pitfall on the BT website, and the advisers I spoke to at BT knew nothing about it. It’s been going on at least a year and has cost me around £20 a month. Lesson: check your itemised bill regularly!

If you have a BT moblie and divert calls you don’t get charged. It is obvious if you are diverting to another phone that you will get charged.

I don’t bother with a physical landline any more. I now have a one gigabit broadband connection at home, over which I can run multiple virtual landlines at no cost. I don’t consequently don’t suffer from these phantom outgoing calls or nuisance incoming calls. The internet used to operate over telephone lines, but increasingly telephone lines are operating over the internet instead. I predict that all communications will be IP-based at some point in future.

Alex, is it really necessary to divide up contributions between two threads? You’ve highlighted what you believe are the best contributions from the original discussion, but must you ask people to post their experiences here instead of the original topic thread?

Wev & Alex have highlighted major flaws with Which? Convo – most people only contribute to the front page and only the last 8 comments are visible that are sometimes all about the same subject which is why threads get resurrected as a new convo.

Unless a comment is aimed at anything on the front page, 8 comments later it has gone into oblivion.

Sometimes threads need resurrecting with new comments and ideas by new people who may not have seen the original thread and have something relevant to say.

Which? need to rethink the home page so that people who only want to check in once a week can see what has been discussed in the last week and not just the last 8 posts.

Maybe you need a second page somewhere between the current design and a regular forum so that all the latest threads can be seen.

I concur in wev’s view about bisecting the Converstional threads. I have previously suggested that more live and ongoing Conversations should listed on the home page [just the title will do and the last seven days would be enough] so we can catch up with contributions that we might have missed because there was too much ping-pong on the popular topic. Failing any response to that suggestion I use the search box at the top right of the page which keeps a list of the topics I might wish to revisit [you might still need to trawl through the index, however].

Sometimes a comment making an excellent point appears very briefly on the home page, then is pushed off by a flurry of comments on another subject, and so is seen by almost no-one. A couple of times I have posted a comment and hoped to see some reactions to it, but it has immediately disappeared from view.
Could it not be possible to see all comments for the previous day in one place?

If a comment contains a link it has to be approved before it appears. This is normally done promptly but not if the comment is posted in the evening or at the weekend. This means that some comments with links never appear on the homepage.

It would be great to be able to look at all the comments posted during the previous 24 hours and to be able to search for posts made by individual users.

I’m loving all of these suggestions. I’ve had a chat with Alex, and we’ve decided that since we’re on a community comment round-up, let’s keep the suggestions of improvements coming here. I can understand how it’s easier to do it here rather than on email. We are looking to make improvements to the site, and we want all of you super users involved. So – suggest away.

One quick thing, I’ve increased the homepage comments to show 10 as a bit of a quick fix, though I know this isn’t the solution you’re looking for. Cheers!

Thanks very much Patrick. Most of us have no idea of the constraints of the software used for this site, but a few very useful changes have been introduced over the years – especially the direct link to comments from posts shown on the homepage.

Increasing the number of recent Conversations on the homepage and increasing the number of homepage comments have both been useful, at least in my view.

I wish I knew a quick way of scrolling through hundreds of comments within a Conversation when using an iPad. It’s very easy with a computer.

Hi Wavechange, the site isn’t optimised for tablets and mobiles… another change that’s on the road-map.

I’m looking forward to the Which? Conversation app. 🙂

Haha, hopefully that won’t be necessary with a good mobile optimised site 🙂

What would you like the app to do?

I wonder if it might be possible use an app to do some things that are currently difficult or impossible with the web interface.

– It would be good to be able to explore all recent posts, for example during the past day or week. That is particularly important after Conversations have disappeared from the home page.

– A facility to add posts to a reading list (as used on web browsers) would be useful to identify messages that could be responded to or might contain useful information worth following up.

– The ability to search for posts from particular contributors would be useful. Often I can remember who made an interesting point but it can be a challenge to find it.

So, a website activity feed, a way to favourite posts and the ability to follow others. Let’s pop ’em on the list.

I support all Wavechange’s suggestions. I would be surprised if more space for live Conversation titles could not be made available within the present home page envelope by compressing or eliminating some of the existing features.

As a matter of interest I put the following ideas up for consideration in August 2011 and received a promising response from Hannah Jolliffe :-
1.Go back to exactly where you were on a previous page after looking at a thread [i.e. not back to the home page]. This has been done.
2. Actually go to the top of a previous page when clicking “previous” or the page number.This has also been done.
3. See before you start reading them how many pages of comments there are in a thread so that – if you want to – you can start at the beginning rather than go first to the latest comment. Hannah said they would see whether it would be useful to put the page numbers at the top of the comments as well as at the bottom. I think it would be fairly useful.
4. See which conversations you have joined so that you can check for any reactions or further posts [I know there is an e-mail facility but that is just another cumbersome process]. This would meet Esther’s point above.

I wonder how much use is made of the the Most Commented tab – if use is light perhaps the capacity could be better used for some of the suggestions now coming forward.

And Patrick . . . how about updating your photograph in the “Get In Touch” section? It wouldn’t provide any more space on the homepage but it would provide comfort to those who doubt that that there is only one Patrick Steen.

Looks like I need to create an Excel spreadsheet 😉 I don’t think we can lose any of the features on the homepage, but I do like the idea of an activity feed.

Haha, do I look like two different people? I need to give the Meet the Team section a little bit of a refresh as sadly some people have left Which? now. But we have some brill new people too, like Alex Toplis. I might make a similar call to other regulars like Wev – upload an avatar if you can 🙂

You have my word that every comment I’ve ever made has been written by me (all 2,725 of them, which has nothing on Wavechange’s 8,691. John, you’re on 1,644, which puts you in fourth place).

I’ve been trying to think of a way to show resurrected posts on the front page so they stay a while.

In the ” What’s your opinion on this story”, could you put names of recent contributors then when you hover over their names, the first part of their post displays in a balloon looking much the same as it does under latest comments.

Then resurrected posts could be listed on the right hand side with recent contributors names to hover over.

Rather than showing all the latest comments which can sometimes be of all the same subject, just show the latest for that convo.

You can do a search in a conversation by any word(s) using your internet tools, file, find on this page (Internet Explorer).

We had an expensive weep minute call to a parcel tracking service on our virgin landline one day when we were all at a funeral. The engineer refunded it but i am concerned about why. It was over an hour long.

Jonathan Mitchell says:
30 September 2014

Tired of being tricked by B.T in to services like BT.infinity by so called Engineers,that are only salesmen in disguise ,and threatened with high cancelation costs ,when you phone to complain .being charged £40.30 to phone directory for 3calls.

Nowadays my monthly phone bill is usually the same because I try to ensure that all calls are included in the tariff.

That means making daytime calls to mobiles from my landline and looking up alternative numbers for costly calls. Unless the landline or mobile bill is for more than the default amount I don’t bother checking it for unexplained charges.

I am trying to remember when I last called the speaking clock. It must have been before 1984, when I bought a TV with displayed Teletext, with the time shown on each page. Teletext is history but my computers show the time, the landline handsets do, my mobile phone does and various battery-operated clocks that keep excellent time including one that is radio-controlled.

Before anyone says that none of the devices I have mentioned shows time in seconds, I should point out that I don’t run my life that way. This post may be at 18.39 or 18.40, but it does not matter.

Jonathan Mitchell says:
10 October 2014

Have a lot. Of problems with Telecom.but when you ring there number to complain it costs you a lot of money,and you don’t get any satisfaction,I suppose it’s because you are speaking to someone in Bombay ,India,I don’t know why they call it British Telecom when it is an Indian Company.they send an English Engineer to install the equipment ,who promised it would be cheaper ,that’s why we agreed to it,we received our first account last week which was over £75 ,which was certainly not cheaper,but have been told that we can not cancel for a year,to cancel would cost us a fine of over £370 ,you don’t expect to get ripped off by a company you have had your telephone with for a lifetime .we are easy targets when your 91 years of age.

Hi Jonathan,

I got good results from the Chairman’s Office quite a long time ago when I had a problem with BT. I don’t know if this avenue still works though.

You could also try searching for BT High Level Complaints. There are a lot of phone numbers around that could get you an English speaking person. Whether they still work or not is another matter !!! Perhaps do a search on the number before you ring it.

dawn perry says:
28 October 2014

I had several calls on a phone bill for a line that hadn`t even been installed. Told it was a Openreach number which it was when I dialled it. The day it happened a phone line was being installed at a property near mine. Mine was installed finally a month later.

Polly says:
10 December 2014

Two calls to Directory Enquiries are shown on my phone bill, the first lasting 7minutes then another a minute later lasting 4minutes. The calls were absolutely definitely not made from my phone… Talktalk tell me they were but I know for certain that they weren’t. Talktalk have agreed to refund the amount charged, but how can this have happened and can It be prevented from happening again?

Dennis Hepp says:
28 May 2015

I had 39p added to my bill for a 123 call that i did not make on 1-4-2015 , rang B T to find out what it was for and was told I must have rung the speaking clock which i have never done in my life.
Did not get a refund.

I have recently been charged £11.67 for a large number of phantom 123 calls. Very Very difficult to get through to anybody with any sense at BT. 30 minutes wait on the phone without success. On-line chat is a joke and your are connected with people on the other side of the world who have no idea how to resolve anything. They keep saying that I haven’t been charged, totalling £11.67 anything yet it clearly shows on my on-line bill a whole series of 123 calls all charged at £0.389.
I don’t even have a phone connected to my land line and only use this for Broadband. A switch of provider is imminent!!

My latest BT bill showed a call to 118500 – duration 3 seconds – cost £4.19.
I had not dialled it.
The call preceding this (6 minutes earlier) is still on my redial list but 118500 is NOT there.
I was the only one in the house. My wife was abroad.
I have no SKY television or anything else that might automatically communicate over a telephone line.
Initial contacts with Customer Services (in India I think) got nowhere, even when escalated to a manager. In fairness to them, I had not thought about checking the “redial” list at that time.
The manager said that I could contact residential.services@bt.com, if I was still not satisfied.
I did this and received a telephone call (from this side of the world!!) acknowledging the error and apologising for the original Customer Service. I had given him this web page link to look at and he realised the extent of the problem and said that he would take it back to appropriate technical people, with a view to eliminating it in the future.
He granted me a refund plus a goodwill payment.

I have recently noticed four charges on my mobile phone bill for £ 4.50 each . Phoned provider who could only give me vague explanation of what they were for , they indicated I must have made the calls . I told them the bill details the calls were made at the exact same time on the same day of the week , at this point the customer service operator said the charges would be refunded . Whilst I thanked them for this , I told them I wanted a call back within 3 days giving me the full details of the phone number , the third party organisation who received my money and the services they had provided ( charges were for services provided by a third party ???!!! ) and their address . I await their response .