/ Money, Technology

Moving away from costly customer phone lines

Red telephone with blue flashing light

I have two bits of news to share with you about our Costly Calls campaign – one involves the Big Six energy suppliers, and the other GP practices. Both had expensive 084 phone numbers in common…

Scottish Power is the last of the Big Six energy suppliers to move away from an expensive phone number for its customer service line.

You can now call Scottish Power on 0800 0270 072 or 0345 270 0700. That means your call will either be free or won’t cost more than a local rate number, whether you’re calling from a landline or mobile.

Scottish Power made the change following the launch of our Costly Calls campaign, with a spokesperson telling us:

‘We want to make it easier for our customers to deal with us and that’s why, following feedback from our customers and consumer groups including Which?, we are moving our main number to 0800 for our most frequently used Customer Service number.’

GP phone numbers

In other news, NHS England this week wrote to GPs asking them to stop forcing patients to call expensive phone lines.

Around 8% of practices still use pricey 084 numbers, despite rules in 2010 saying GPs couldn’t sign new deals with phone companies that would require expensive numbers for patients.

Of course, many GPs had contracts in place before the new rules came into effect. However, the Department of Health told GPs at the time that they should take ‘reasonable steps’ to change contracts that didn’t comply with the rules.

Many of you have been sharing GP practices that use 084 numbers here on Which? Convo. You shouldn’t have to pay a premium to make an appointment with your GP. In fact, NHS England’s deputy medical director Dr Mike Bewick says it’s a ‘health equalities issue’:

‘There is a real risk that more financially secure patients will wait on hold to get an appointment, no matter how much it costs them, where a poorer patient will be forced to hang up because they can’t afford the cost of the call, and not receive treatment because of that.’

Have you spotted a costly number?

We want all companies and public bodies, including GPs and NHS dentists, to offer either freephone or local rate numbers for their customer phone lines. You can help by joining 58,000 others by signing our Costly Calls petition.

Have you spotted a company or GP using an expensive number? Did you get hit with a big phone bill?


The worst example I’ve seen is Creation which issues credit cards affiliated to a number of organisations such as the travel industry and football clubs. Creation uses a premium rate 0871 number for its customer services department.


Shockingly, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills proposes to exempt financial services from Regulation 39 of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 (which is the UK’s implementation of Article 21 of Directive 2011/83/EU on Consumer Rights) so that Creation and others will be allowed to continue this unfair commercial practice.

I’m interested to find out whether any NHS GPs or Dentists have started using 0844 or 0845 (or 0870) numbers after April 2013. Has anyone spotted any?

My GP still uses an 0844 number & has done so for at least 4 years. I am lucky to have access to a pc & have registered with my surgery to book appointments on line. I am well aware there are patients that are unable or unwilling to do this & it’s about time all GP surgeries were forced to use their local numbers.

Ian01 says:
15 November 2013

Your GP was sent a letter last week with instructions which they must now comply with.

See the post at
and the post immediately after it, as well as the post at

I’m interested to find out whether any NHS GPs or Dentists have started using 084 or 087 numbers after April 2013. Has anyone spotted any?

I was very pleased to hear about NHS England’s recent letter. However since then there still seems to be groups trying every trick to avoid changing back to 01.03 numbers. Will the Fair telecom team please keep up the pressure.

The recent comments by Which? about Ryanair obviously upset someone in the company, judging by one of their first posts on Twitter. I wonder when Ryanair will drop its expensive phone numbers and whether they will do this quietly or make a point about how they are improving their customer service. 🙂

A permanent link to their comments about Which? and the various responses to that can be found here… http://archive.is/0ZC09

JohnP says:
12 November 2013

Just dont have anyting to do with Raynair they are Crap!! I think we all know that!!!

Peter says:
8 November 2013

My American acquaintances think we Brits are mad. They would never willingly do business with a company which demands consumers pay premium rates to order or complain about a product. Hence nearly all have freephone numbers often emblazoned on the packaging too. I accept that very small firms here in UK may not wish to use 0800 numbers as they may receive far more nuisance cold calls from reps than from genuine customers, but they should at least use a national number.

I am sure I am not the only one who has SAYNOTO0870 at the top of my internet favourites list! But in our dream world of responsible corporations there would be no need for this currently essential website.

The telephone service should be run honestly for the people of this country. Whoever dreamed up ripping off customers with such a complicated system where you never know how much a call costs deserves to be shot!

We need a simple system:
0800 free
0810 1p a call
0820 2p a call
0830 3p a call
0840 4p a call etc. etc.

No, we definitely don’t need such a system. There is no justification for fees to be paid to the called party through a prefix that costs the caller more than the basic rate. If the called party wishes to charge fees to the caller, it should do so honestly and transparently through the charges it makes for any goods or services supplied. Telephone bills should be for communication charges only, not for disguised charges for goods and services.

I agree, NFH. There are plenty of precedents for companies charging for services, so let us keep them separate from phone charges.

Brian Ellis says:
9 November 2013

As mentioned before, instead of phoning expensive 0800 / 0870 / 0845 etc. numbers,SAYNOTO0870; this website is brilliant. You type in the expensive phone number and it gives you the local number it re-directs


It doesn’t work with ALL numbers. E.g. AGE UK has a 0845 number, which, for a charity catering for such a vulnerable group, is disgraceful.

Age UK now has the same sort of connection to Government as the Citizens Advice who are also now recieving part funding by Government.

As soon as Age Concern (Charity) changed to Age UK and recieved a connection to Government they doubled the charges for Day Centre activities and now charge for what used to be free after the Daily Charge was given. for instance Hair dressing was free courtesy of a local hairdresser (she enjoyed doing it) she was given the alternative of charging or they would use another. Facts from a neighbour who has used this Age Concern Day Centre for years which used to be Geographic number until Age UK which is now 0845.

Age UK says:
13 November 2013

Hi Brian,

Thank you for posting your thoughts on the use of 0845 numbers. I’m not sure to which telephone number you refer, but if the number is related to a Local Age UK, which would therefore be an independent organisation, you should provide them with your feedback as well. We do review all the channels of communication open to our customers regularly and all feedback is welcome. Age UK’s main contact numbers are Freephone 0800 169 8787 for general enquiries and 0800 169 6565 for Information and Advice and email contact is contact@ageuk.og.uk, other 0800 numbers are also published on our website for products and services Age UK provides directly. We are grateful for your thoughts and these will be fed into the next review.

Kind regards,

Christopher Stransom
Customer Engagement Manager
Age UK

I have a mobile phone on the Tesco PAYG Lite tariff; I do not have a landline.
Calls to 0844, 0845 and 0870 numbers are 8p per minute, which is the same as the cost for 01, 02 and 03 numbers.
As there is no line rental, the effective cost is probably less than a call from a BT phone.

Ian01 says:
13 November 2013

Tesco is charging 8p/min for calls to 01 and 02 (and 0870) numbers. These are calls where Tesco has to pass on less than 0.1p/min to the terminating telco.

Tesco also charges 8p/min for calls where it has to pass on either 2p/min (0845) or between 2p and 7p/min (0843 and 0844) to the terminating telco (for 0843 and 0844 numbers that figure depends on the exact telephone number called).

Those prices are interesting. They show how retail call prices are manipulated and do not represent the true cost of connecting and conveying the call. Calls to 084 and 087 numbers should generally cost more than calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers because the former also involve an additional Service Charge being passed on to the terminating telecoms company.

Tesco are choosing to make less than 2p/min profit on the majority of calls to 0843 and 0844 numbers while making about 6p/min profit on calls to 0845 numbers and almost 8p/min profit on calls to 01, 02, 03 and 0870 numbers.

Ofcom’s “unbundled tariffs” system will force Tesco to set and declare a single Access Charge per tariff covering all 084, 087 and 09 numbers. Setting that Access Charge at, say, 3p/min while at the same time charging 8p/min for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers will clearly show that manipulation of retail call prices.

Other mobile networks mostly set their equivalent Access Charge, e.g. for 084 numbers, at between 28p and 39p/min. This gives an extortionate retail call price for 084 numbers that is often between 35p and 41p/min. With public declaration and visibility of the Access Charge, those high rates will not be able to survive after the introduction of the “unbundled tariffs” system.

Ofcom hints at their plans here:
These changes will bring much clarity to 084, 087 and 09 call pricing and force proper competition on that pricing to begin. Until now, most mobile networks appear to have charged as much as they thought they could get away with. Several mobile networks have strongly objected to Ofcom’s proposals for call price clarity and transparency. The most vocal objections seem to have come from the networks with the highest call prices.

Why is everybody talking about premium rate phone numbers today. is it because The Sun and The Mail carry the story on their front pages? Even Sky, with their 0844 number for customer services, is giving it lots of air time but only in relation to Government Departments using them.

Richard Lloyd of Which? and David Hickson of Fairtelecoms have been on TV giving their views on the issue. Some idiot on #skypapers last night stated that we could avoid the high charges by using alternative numbers but was ever so vague as to how we do it. I think he did not have a clue about the issue but was briefed by someone before the programme. He also rabbited on about the premium rate numbers being included in evening and or weekend call packages. My phone package does include 0870 and 0845 numbers but not the Sky 0844 number. Also, I could not find an alternative working number for the Sky 0844 number when I phoned them a few weeks ago. All alternatives on ‘say no to 0870’ were no longer working or just referred you back to the 0844 number..

Ian01 says:
11 November 2013

Today (November 11th), the Public Accounts Committee published their report bringing government departments to account for their usage of higher-rate phone numbers. That’s why all talk is of government usage and not of business usage. The report stems from their enquiry in September 2013. The report makes bold recommendations encouraging the use of 03 and 080 numbers.

At some point, the Cabinet Office will confirm their new policy for all of government, and DWP will confirm their intentions and announce a timescale for their move to 0345 numbers.

Within the next few weeks, BIS will publish the Statutory Instruments to implement the provisions of the Consumer Rights Directive in the UK. Talk will then change to business usage of these numbers. We’ve seen the draft version in August 2013 and there may be some changes to note. Soon after that, many businesses will be beginning their migration from 084 and 087 numbers to the matching 034 or 037 number or to a new 01, 02, 030, 033 or 080 number.

Within the next month or so, Ofcom should be publishing the Statutory Instruments to implement the “unbundled tariffs” system for 084, 087 and 09 numbers giving clarity and transparency to call prices, return 0870 numbers to revenue sharing, lift the provisions of the NTS Condition from BT, and make 080 numbers free from mobile phones.

I have today written to my GP including the letter from NHS management and asking what their intentions are. This will be my fourth letter to them. All the previous ones were deflected. Watch this space. The practise in question is Dr Lester and partners.

Ian01, thanks for the explanation but what is the NTS Condition?

I know a number of us Which? subscribers have written to BIS to ask them to include financial and travel services in the Directive. I don’t suppose that Ryanair with their £1 per minute customer service line will be worried.

I have recently become aware that HMR&C and the Pension Service are both using 0845 numbers for phone replies to their letters or for further information by phone.

I, personally refuse to use such numbers and continue to contact them by post.

Ian01 says:
12 November 2013

HMRC has recently moved their 0845 and 0870 lines to new 0300 and 0345 numbers.

Check their website.

I wrote to my GP last week after the release of information on 0844 numbers. They wrote back saying. This matter is now being discussed with our telephone system providers. We have communicated to NHS England that it is extremely important that any negotiations do not have financial implications for our ability to provide a full primary care service.
To me this seems that they are trying to ignore the fact that it is a breach of contract whatever the financial implications. Maybe the Breach of Contract will cost them more that any costs from the Phone providers. Still waiting for any real action.

Yorkie says:
20 February 2014

Try the web-site SAYNOTOO870.COM and enter the high cost phone number, and they may be able to display the “everyday” number. I always use this site and have saved a lot of money.

David Nixon says:
21 February 2014

My GP is in Newtownards. County Down the practice has been using an 084 number for several years, when you phone a recorded message informs the caller that the call will cost 5p per minute. Is this service accepted by the NHS?

I called the emergency number on a Thames Water pumping station gate 08459200800 when I noticed raw sewage leaking out and forming a pool outside. My mobile company charged me Local Rate 00:10:24 Excluded £2.124. I tweeted Thames Water and demanded they reimburse me. After a couple of direct messages they agreed to provide a refund to my own Thames Water account of £5 to cover the cost of the call and compensation.