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Making a complaint shouldn’t come at a premium

Cartoon of woman on phone

Have you ever had to call a premium rate 0845 or 0870 number just to make a complaint about a recent purchase? New government proposals could soon see premium rate charges scrapped for company helplines.

Being a loyal customer can be expensive. If you want to call your energy company’s customer service line, a pricey 0845 number may be waiting for you. And yet, what number is a prospective customer given? A free-phone 0800 number.

Well, this uncomfortable inconsistency could soon become a thing of the past. The government has said that calling a company’s complaints or customer service line should not cost any more than calling a geographic landline or, if calling from a mobile, no more than the standard mobile rate.

The new legislation is set out in the government’s response (PDF) to the European Consumer Rights Directive, and should come into force in June next year.

The end of rip-off call charges?

So, could this be the beginning of the end for rip-off call charges? Yes and no. Companies will still be able to charge higher rates when you’re purchasing goods or services, but not when you call up to complain about that purchase.

It’s also worth noting that financial services aren’t included in the government’s proposals, as they are covered by separate regulations. This is disappointing considering that last year we found that most banks and insurers use 0800 numbers for new customers and 0845/0844 numbers for their existing loyal customers.

Government departments will also not be covered by the new rules, and the inclusion of transport companies is currently up for consultation.

What about calling from a mobile?

Of course, if you don’t have a landline, calling from a mobile could still be a bit pricey, just as calling an 0800 number can be at the moment. However, at least you’ll be content in the fact that it won’t cost more than calling another mobile.

I’m one of the landline-less among us, but I am lucky that my mobile provider doesn’t charge for 0800 numbers. So, how do I call my bank or energy company? I track down their 0800 sales number for new customers and ask them to put me through to the right department!

Confusing 084 and 087 call costs

And it’s not just the cost of non-geographic 084 and 087 numbers that are frustrating – working out how much it will actually cost can also be very confusing. This is because the rates differ depending on the company you’re calling and also the phone provider you’re with. The cost of calling an 0845 number from a BT line can be dramatically different to calling from a Virgin line, for example.

To this end, the communications regulator Ofcom is also working to simplify non-geographic charges. Ultimately, call charges for calling helplines need to be clear and transparent so that you know exactly what you’re going to pay before making a call.

It’s encouraging to see that the government is tackling this issue – it’s been a long time coming. Do you resent having to call premium rate numbers to make a complaint?

Should companies scrap premium rate numbers for their helplines?

Yes (99%, 6,176 Votes)

No (1%, 46 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,222

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Don’t know about other mobile operators, but my T-mobile pay monthly contract includes all calls to 08 numbers, which includes 0800, 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871. Very convenient because I could use 0844 and 0871 international access numbers to call abroad for free.

Are you 100% sure about that? I have just been on the t-mobile website and can not see anything about that. If it was true I would make a bomb out of that.

I’m not saying you are lying. But I think you must be mistaken.

Euan says:
31 August 2013

does anyone know how I would set up my own number. who did Lee use? im gonna do this myself ant put a stop to the calls I get.

James says:
31 August 2013

Unless you also change your ordinary number and go ex-directory at the same time, marketers will simply carry on calling you on your normal number.

It’s a drastic measure and one that is not without some initial inconvenience, but I managed to get rid of all the cold callers and PPI refund salesmen etc. With the advent of high speed broadband I ditched BT completely and went to the Vonage voip service. You CAN move your BT number to this service, but they will also issue you with a completely new number, which is what I opted for. Not only is the sound quality much better, it’s about half the price – £6 per month for all UK geographical calls and no line rental. Yes I still have to pay for premium rate, mobile and international calls on top, but there are packages that include these.

I emailed my MP, Nicola Blackwood, concerning this problem and she is going to follow it up with Jo Swinson MP, Minister of State for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs. She also pointed out the following two government papers
Both of which seem to be steps in the right direction.

Thanks Peter. Good point. There are considerable risks with e-mail – it’s bad enough unscrupulous staff in companies being able to harvest contact details from the correspondence received without hidden spiders in the web grabbing them for fraudulent exploitation. Need to be careful – if something is important enough for me to take up with a company I still tend to send a letter by post; might take longer to get a response but in my experience the answer when received is usually more competent.

Peter Morgan says:
10 January 2014

Possibly worth looking at spamgourmet (.com) which allows you to create unique e-mail addresses for every web site you visit and then forward it to your ‘private’ mailbox.

A bit technical and I won’t go into it in full here, but let’s just say that if a website was hacked and some spammer got one of these addresses, I could let Spamgourmet eat messages rather than have them come to me, and more important, I’d be able to know which website was hacked and the user data grabbed by a spammer.

Also, since my private mailbox is only reached via spamgourmet, the spammer/ hacker doesn’t get that from the other websites I use, and with the different mail addresses, it makes it less easy to know it is the same person (me) using each of those various sites.

PeterM says:
23 February 2014

Meant to comment on this aspect ages ago, but didn’t have the correct web site or quote to hand…

If you (Which?) plan to talk about “Premium Rate” with any official body such as OFCOM, or PhonePayPlus (which replaced ICSTIS, for governing Premium Rate calls), then PLEASE at least GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT… 0945 and 0870 are NOT PREMIUM RATE numbers.

See http://is.gd/PremiumDef and here’s a quote

“Check if it is a premium rate charge

Premium rate numbers begin with 0871, 0872, 0873, 090 or 118. If it’s a premium rate text service the number will be a five or six-digit shortcode and will probably begin with 5, 6, 7 or 8. “

PeterM says:
23 February 2014

OK, and sorry for ‘shouting’ but glad to see you’re aware. Just that with the massive number of ‘special’ numbers, it would obviously make someone complaining about ‘Premium rate’ look a bit foolish / unprepared in front of a regulator / specialist from the Telecomms world.

I suspect BT adds any combination based on what different Telecom firms want as their own particular charge band, so there’s very little clear logic applied. Roll on the day when one is told the cost of a call before being connected, so costly mistakes/ firms can be avoided.

One thing I noticed (and am unsure whether there’s anywhere I could complain about them, apart from making others aware) is that 1899.com (which also runs 18185, both ‘indirect access’ calls services) offer calls to UK landlines at 0p/min (with a 5p connection fee). Unfortunately they only include 01 and 02 numbers and have not included 03s at all. It’s a minor issue for me as my mobile contract includes 03s and I have 2000 minutes each month but was a teeny shock when I noticed the calls I had assumed would only cost me 5p per call were charged (on my landline) at quite a bit more (not unreasonably high, but Primus definitely doesn’t match ‘5p per call’ !)

ANY charge above the standard GB landline rate comes at a premium, so it IS a premium rate number when I call to 0845 or 0870.
I know that the companies that use them like us to think that this is not so, but in fact it is.

All calls to 084, 087, 090, 091, 098 and 118 numbers incur a Service Charge or ‘premium’ to the benefit of the called party. From June 2015 this premium will have to be declared.

Additional PhonepayPlus regulation covers Controlled Premium Rate Services. These are defined as numbers starting 087 and which have a Service Charge of more than 7p per minute, and all numbers starting 090, 091, 098 and 118.

Ofcom recently confirmed that the 03 range of numbers is the only non-geographic number range to have retail price parity with that for calls 01 and 02 numbers.

Jason says:
15 April 2014

Calling a 0845 number cost 2p per minute day times half a pence eves and weekends using a BT landline, if you switch to Virgin where they will charge you 20p thats your own fault,

Its the likes of Virgin and Sky that are to blame for the rising cost in calling these numbers, the actual pence per minute to call them is cheap, its those companies wanting to make a horrendous amount of profit that should be made to lower their price, not the companies using them, they are not revenue sharing numbers where the companies make money.

[This comment has been edited slightly. Please don’t be rude to other members of the community. Thanks, mods.]

BT’s retail call price for 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers is capped by the NTS Retail Condition. BT is currently prevented from making margin on call origination. This means BT call prices differ from all other providers.

This regulation will be lifted in June 2015. At the same time, these call prices will be made transparent by splitting them into an Access Charge and a Service Charge each separately declared.

0845 numbers are revenue sharing but only the largest organisations, those with hundreds of thousands of incoming calls, receive a payout – and then only about half a penny per minute However, all users of 0845 numbers receive a financial benefit of around 2p per minute and will have to declare that as their Service Charge everywhere their number is advertised from June 2015.

Think that 08 number are pricey for complaints / faults! Flextel invites people to report faults in their service to an 070 number no doubt at staggering rates:

“In the unlikely event that you experience a fault, call our 24 hour fault line on 0701 0700 151.”

I don’t think I’ll be reporting any faults!

This appears to be a clear breach of Regulation 41 of the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. Since June 2014, customer service and other post sales helplines must use numbers starting 01, 02 or 03.

If the current situation is unchanged, you may wish to report this apparent breach of the regulations to Trading Standards via the Citizen’s Advice national Consumer Helpline on 0345 404 0506.

Sarah Willis says:
20 January 2015

I honestly, I don’t like 0800 numbers. They are not free from a mobile and are prone to hoax calls/more expensive to run. However, there are pros and cons for all types of numbers from local rate to 0844/0800.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Does the 0844 ban apply to business services? My small company has a contract with Titan Telecom to provide our single business line and it only has an 0844 number to call for line faults. Is this legal and if not, to whom do I report it.