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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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I can see a reason for using premium rate phone lines to provide personal technical support, but no-one making a complaint should be expected to use them.

The cost of phone calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers was one of the reasons that I switched to a tariff that includes them. That saves looking for alternative numbers, but I still have to do this for 084… numbers. 🙁

When it was first introduced, the Say no to 0870 website was not much help, but it is now very useful.

PeterM says:
23 February 2014

It’s not just for complaints though – I find it very odd that even some ‘sales’ lines are 0844 or 0843 or 0871. It’s plain and simple money grabbing, as far as I am concerned, so I simply won’t bother with them at all.


Yes and No. Yes, just because nearly all companies have a model where all parts of the organisation should be bringing in revenue, doesn’t mean I should have to pay to contact them, If they did whatever well enough in the 1st place I wouldn’t need to. And No, as I have a call plan which includes them.

I rang Thames Water this morning at 01:30 yes that right. Why? Because two men in high vis jacket were doing something with the water meters and they woke me up with the noise at 01:05. I had to use an 0845 number, grr. Turns out they had crews out doing active water tests, but if they hadn’t they wouldn’t have woken me up and I wouldn’t have needed to ring them.


From July 2014, Article 21 of the Consumer Rights Directive will ban businesses from using 084 and 087 prefixes for after-sales telephone lines. For some unknown reason, some industries (e.g. airlines and banks) are exempt from complying, but the UK government can remove these exemptions in the UK if it wishes. Let’s hope that it applies a blanket ban across all industries.


Why has this not been done without the need for input from the EU? We are very good at recognising what needs to be done but seem powerless to take action.

On the basis of Ofcom’s performance with other issues, it seems very unlikely that they will simplify charges for calling non-geographic numbers to the extent that the average person can remember the cost. My suggestion is to have a technical solution so that we can enter part of a number followed by a hash to check the cost per minute before calling: for example 0844# The price could be both displayed for those with Caller Display and also announced audibly by an automated system.

Bernard Hunt says:
9 August 2013

Good Idea.

But why not make it law that ALL calls to any number are either free of cost no more than the provider’s standard charge.

I am particlarly annoyed that when I call my bank, I am being charged a premium rate, yet the bank has a war chest of money (that they won’t lend)


Certain numbers are designed for revenue sharing. The caller pays for the service through the Service Charge, a form of micro-payment. These numbers should exist, but there should be strict rules as to who can use them and when.


I admit. I am a hypocrite with this.

As Which? already knows, I have a 0871 as my home number. I have this so I make money when PPI/cold callers phone me.

But, I hate them numbers. I hate 0845, 0844, 0843, 0870, 0871 the list goes on and I refuse to call them.

When I need to speak to a company the first thing I will do is search for a 0800 freephone number and if i can’t find one, take to Twitter and get the company to phone me (on my 0871 number) or speak via DM instead….and it works as companies like to show they help people on social networks.

Colin Halton says:
9 August 2013

Completely agree!


Do people who need to call you and from who you want to hear have a non premium rate number? I hope so, otherwise you are punishing genuine callers.


My 0871 numbers sits on top of my normal Leeds 0113 number. 2 people have my 0113 number and that is my mother and my best friend. There is no need to give anyone else the number as I speak to other people via txt or on skype for free.

When I am opening a new bank account or moving my energy etc and they ask for my “home number” I give the 0871 and sometimes they ask why. I am honest and say it’s so I make 10p per min when companies call me. If you want a number for me that will have to use it.


That’s interesting. Where can I find out more about how this works? I might consider it for myself.


Lee, you are a hypocrite, but I forgive you – only because I don’t have to phone you. How much does your 0871 number cost. It may be a way of getting rid of nuisance callers or do you still get them?


It sounds like a good idea, but do you really get PPI and other cold calls to your 0871 number? I thought most of these PPI callers just dial random numbers until they find one that exists. Then they will get your 0113 number. They are unlikely to ring random 0871 numbers as most of these belong to companies rather than individuals.


It cost me £10.00 plus VAT. I do still get PPI calls, but not much at all tbh.

I have only had 1 cold call these last 2 weeks & that was from NPower.


“but do you really get PPI and other cold calls to your 0871 number? I thought most of these PPI callers just dial random numbers until they find one that exists.”

I look for ways to get companies to call me tbh. Like 3 days ago I had a problem with my Ocado shop. I tweeted them and they asked me to call a 0845 number. I refused and asked them to call my 0871 *** **** number. I posted this in a open tweet so if cold callers pick up on that number it will help me make a few more quid if they phone me.

(oh and Ocado did phone me on the number and sorted out the problem)


I admire your spirit of enterprise and your cheek. How long did you have the number before earning the cost of it?


Lee, do you make enough to cover the cost to you?


“I admire your spirit of enterprise and your cheek. How long did you have the number before earning the cost of it?”

When I first got the number i was making around £7 a month from it. So it paid for itself in less than 2 months. But my cold calls have slowen down loads this year.

“Lee, do you make enough to cover the cost to you? ”

Yes, I paid a one-off £10 plus VAT and i do not pay monthly or yearly. The company who I have bought it off makes money on every call just like me. So they do not need to charge anything else apart from the £10+VAT.

This month, August, I have had 16 calls so far & my “Rebate” is £2.867. I would post a screen shot. But you can’t on Which.


The downside is the disruption of receiving calls and the time used in keeping the caller on the line. Only an individual can decide whether the small rebate is worth these drawbacks.


Thats amazing. I often supply a fake telephone number when I have no option but to supply a number and when I don’t think the organisation needs to have my telephone number. This, I think could be a solution. Perhaps if I start having nuisance calls I may follow your example.


“Only an individual can decide whether the small rebate is worth these drawbacks. ”

I work from home so I am always at my desk when the phone goes anyway so i just listen to them blab on while i carry on with my work 🙂

I pay £19.99 (including VAT) a month for my normal line rental & unlimited broadband with Plusnet I do not have any extra calling plans so i pay for each and every call i make. I normally spend around £2.00 – £2.50 a month on calls that I make. So if my rebate covers that then i am very happy indeed & that is no goal.

Last year I was making much more. But this year has been little slack.


But even if you get on with your work while they are talking on the phone, it will still cause at least one minute’s delay to your work due to disrupting your train of thought. Considering most calls are hardly more than a minute, at 10p a minute that’s £6 an hour – roughly minimum wage. If I were you, I would outsource your telephone answering to Bangalore. You can get someone there to be your personal agent for £2 an hour, then you pocket the remaining £4 an hour without having to do anything!

richard says:
2 September 2013

+1 on this. They expect US to call THEM on a chargeable number! Whats good for the goose is good for the gander…


Just spotted that the Guardian linked directly to your comment on here Lee 🙂 http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/aug/29/cold-call-victim-gets-own-back


I don’t know how much these 084 and 087 calls cost a minute, and Ofcom’s call cost guide, although interesting, is not much help:
– for landlines
– 0843 and 0844 “typically 1p to 13p per minute
– 0845 “typically..1p to 10.5p per min…often include a call set-up fee”
-0870 “2p to 10p per min and may include a call set-up fee”
-0871/2/3 “5p to 12.5p per min plus a call set up fee”
– 118### £s!
So you neither know what a call will cost, nor how long your call will last (navigate through endless “press 1 for..”) and then how long will you be kept waiting.
03 numbers are there to avoid the 08 uncertainties – they must be included in inclusive minutes. We should abolish 08.
Where I can,I use email or the website contact mail – with the bonus of a written reply – unless I’m in a hurry. Then use SAYNOTO0870.COM


Yes, it depends on the phone provider and other factors. Here’s a table we put together last year:


Don’t forget those who use contract and PAYG mobile phones, Malcolm. On the rare occasions that I have had to use a PAYG phone, it was very expensive to call certain numbers.

The only positive move that I have seen is companies that offer a callback service if you contact them by phone or email.


I did just illustrate landlines, but the same Ofcom guide lists from 10p up to 41p per min for mobiles for these numbers. You can soon rack up a large bill. I have a PAYG mobile that I use only when necessary, so spend little on it.


Mobiles don’t really feature in my life either, but we certainly need support from those who use mobiles regularly or exclusively.


And also remember http://www.pleasepress1.com


Every telephone network publishes their prices on their website, though it’s not always in plain sight.

Landline price guides are difficult to use and confusing because you have to look up which tariff code (such as g6 or g10) applies to the number you are calling. Once you have that code, looking up the call price is fairly easy. Don’t forget there’s usually a connection fee of around 15p and this makes a large number of short calls very expensive.

Finding the price that applies to a call from a mobile phone is much easier. Mobile networks generally charge the same for all 0844 numbers rather than basing the price on the first 6 digits of the telephone number you are calling. The price for 0845 may be the same as for 0844 or it may be a different amount, but that amount will apply to all 0845 numbers. Similar principles apply to 0870 and to 0871. The disadvantage of calling from a mobile is that the caller pays from double to ten times the rate of calling from a landline. There is some price variation between the various mobile networks, though most seem to charge around the 35p/min mark.

More important than the actual price is gaining a sense of which calls are inclusive in call plans and packages.

03 – inclusive from all landlines with a call package (check whether “anytime” or “evenings and weekends” applies) and from all mobiles with a call package (contract phones or pay-as-you-talk bolt-on deals) else charged at “standard geographic rate”.

0843/0844 – always chargable from landlines and from mobiles. The Service Charge stops these calls being inclusive. BT are regulated to charge no more than the Service Charge for these calls. Other providers may charge more. Mobile operators always charge a lot more. The business you are calling makes money from the revenue share of whatever is left after the call-handling costs (queueing, IVR, etc) have been met from the Service Charge monies.

0845 – always chargeable from mobiles. Although there is a Service Charge around 2p to 3p/min, some landline companies (especially BT) subsidise this charge and allow 0845 numbers as inclusive calls in some packages. This is an exceptional case and must not be seen to be the normal arrangement. The Service Charge barely covers the call-handling costs incurred by the called party and therefore isn’t usually large enough for them to receive a revenue share out-payment. However, the company is still benefitting from the Service Charge; it is paying for the non-geographic call-handling facilities and this relieves the called company from having to pay for them.

0870 – always chargeable from mobiles. Ofcom banned revenue sharing in 2009. It’s optional whether these calls are inclusive – some landline operators allow this, mobile operators generally do not. When those new Ofcom rules came into force in 2009, the vast majority of businesses moved to an 0844 or 0871 number so they could continue to charge the caller a Service Charge and benefit from the revenue-sharing of that charge. 0870 numbers are therefore no longer widely used.

0871/0872 – always chargable from landlines and from mobiles. The Service Charge stops these calls being inclusive. BT are regulated to charge no more than the Service Charge for these calls. Other providers may charge more. Mobile operators always charge a lot more. The business you are calling makes money from the revenue share of whatever is left after the call-handling costs (queueing, IVR, etc) have been met from the Service Charge monies. These numbers are also covered by some of the Premium Rate Services (PRS) rules.

084, 087 and 09 numbers are usually sold to busineses with “no running costs when diverted to a UK landline” listed as an advantage. The reason there are no running costs imposed on the called business is that the caller is paying a higher rate for the call, part of which is the Service Charge. The money collected through the Service Charge pays for the call-handling facilities. If there is anything left over after that, the called business may also receive a revenue share payment.

The new BIS draft regulations (published last week) inform businesses they must stop using 084 and 087 numbers for cust