/ Technology

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.


Hello everyone, we heard you loud and clear. It doesn’t make sense that the financial industry, travel and public sector won’t have to ban expensive phone numbers for customer service and complaints. So, because of your comments, we’ve launched a new campaign called Costly Calls!

We’re calling on the government to extend the ban to the travel industry, for the public sector to lead by example, and for the financial regulator to bring the finance industry into line. You can add your signature to our Costly Calls campaign here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/premium-rate-phone-numbers/

You can read more about the campaign and join the debate with our Executive Director Richard Lloyd here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/costly-calls-campaign-customer-helplines-premium-rate-numbers-0845-0870/

Peter says:
10 January 2014

Why stop at the Travel and Finance sectors ?

also, from the article “I’m one of the landline-less among us, but I am lucky that my mobile provider doesn’t charge for 0800 numbers.” is a bit of a ‘sweeping statement’…

I suspect that applies for some contracts (perhaps one of the more costly), but in any case, since you know many people aren’t so lucky with their provider, it would be helpful to know which (although I appreciate you might have left it out in case it was considered a ‘recommendation’ by Which?)