/ Technology

Have you paid for ‘speaking clock’ calls you didn’t make?

Man looking at mobile phone bill

Do you check your monthly phone bill? It might seem like a bit of a chore, but you might miss something – like a ‘speaking clock’ call you were charged for but never made…

For most of us, looking through the list of calls and charges on our monthly phone bill is one of those mundane tasks we don’t always get round to. But maybe we should. Why? There are heaps of eagle-eyed landline owners who’ve spotted that they’ve been mysteriously charged 30-50p for a call to Timeline 123 (the speaking clock) that they didn’t make.

Engineers checking lines in your local area could be the cause. That’s what one Which? member was told after contacting Plusnet about a charge for a speaking call on their landline – placed when no-one was at home. After some back and forth Plusnet provided a refund, attributing such calls to BT Openreach engineers checking lines, despite having asked them to use a free number.

Others report ‘phantom’ call charges

A quick Google search reveals similar reports of being charged for Timeline 123 speaking clock calls, many on forums belonging to BT, Plusnet, Sky and TalkTalk.

Many of the posters are able to rule out themselves, children or elderly relatives from having made the calls. For some it’s a one-off, while others report up to seven calls over a couple of days. Some also managed to get a refund from their phone provider after persistence.

Are engineers calling ‘123’ to test lines?

We notified Openreach about the phantom calls – a spokesperson told us:

‘This is not an issue as far as we know. Openreach engineers have a special number to call to test a line that doesn’t result in a charge.’

Openreach offered to investigate any further examples we have, so we want to hear from you. How many of you are paying for calls you didn’t make? We may only have just scratched the surface, as not all of us religiously check our phone bills, nor do those who have bother to report odd calls we can’t explain. With 25m landlines in the UK, there could be millions of pounds going to these phantom calls.

Do you check your phone bill and have you spotted a rogue 123 call that you know wasn’t made by you or someone in your household?

Daniela Logan says:
6 March 2018

I am with NowTV and charged for multiple calls to one mobile number (07712112579) across October and February which cannot be made by us as we don’t even own a handset, and have nothing plugged into the line. They refuse to send an engineer to check the crossed lines and have told me I have to go to Argos to purchase a handset so they can test! I cannot believe they can’t test the lines themselves and have asked me to go shopping for them (don’t worry they’ve offered a whole £5 compensation) to prove that their is actually a fault? How can this be proper customer service and are they allowed to refuse to send an engineer?

Daniela I just spent 15 minutes reading through the long Terms+Conditions and use of NowTV they certainty have many disclaimers and they say they are not liable for viruses, errors, bugs ,etc etc . You know you are dealing with SKY Daniela ? It looks ,to me, as if you have been either hacked or an app is dialing out that number to give out your info to its headquarters. As I dont posses a cell phone and I dont want to dial it from a landline as it costs me 50p/min , who answers the phone on that number ? its an O2 number .

I should have added its near impossible ( but not impossible ) to have a cellnet crossed line . O2 will know who it is get Sky to check it for you . If I can get the mobile operator then your company can get more info.

Julie Viligiardi says:
16 March 2018

Good evening, I found my home telephone was engaged and there was nobody home so I found this strange and wondered what was happening. I decided to check my phone bill as I was suspicious and found that I have 5 calls to 123 (speaking clock) and two calls to local landline numbers that I rang but found them to be really odd – one asked for a pin and the other for a password. I rang BT (my provider) and was practically accused of lying when I explained I could not have made those calls as I was either at work or on one day was out for the whole day. The advisor said “as those calls are recorded against your home phone number you must have made them”. I was appalled with the way I was spoken to so asked to speak to a Manager. I was kept on the phone for 28 minutes holding and finally the advisor came back and said after speaking to my Manager we know there is a problem with the 123 number but because your bill is not due yet we will have to call you back on the bill due date to speak again about the problem. I asked for this to be logged as a complaint and the advisor said he did but now has to remove the complaint off his system. I queried this saying that the complaint was not resolved but he said the only way it can be progressed is if he removes it off the system! I now have to wait until 26 March to get a call back in an attempt to resolve but nothing I can do if it keeps happening. I am very upset with the way I was spoken to and made out to be a lying. I am not going mad and grateful to see it has happened to others but I feel helpless.

Sorry to hear about you problem Julie > log into MY BT >contact BT > by email > fill in the info then fill in your complaint in the box provided , don’t miss a question or it wont be accepted > click to send >get verification by email with a complaint number . BT are then obliged to reply to you within 4 working days and more to the point they have to ask YOU if you are satisfied and the complaint can be closed . This is the legal way to do it, meaning its in the regulations . ANY problems get back to me I have done this several times , if you have a severely handicapped relative or someone in very old age living with you , you can ask BT to BLOCK -123- 118-118/118-500 but it must be genuine as BT will check into it first as many try to get it done without being qualified and that upsets BT .

Thank you Duncan – it is good to be heard and I will log the complaint in the way you describe. I very much appreciate your response and I will keep you posted.

Anon says:
23 June 2018

I work in BT billing and I have been trained to advise that these types of calls must have been made by someone (Child, Elderly, Visitors etc) however this all changed when it happened to me. I took out employee Broadband which comes with a Landline as standard. I however use a mobile phone and therefore do not have a phone plugged in to make calls. I noticed on my most recent bill that I had been charged for a 1 second call to TimeLine. I looked at the date and also noticed that Me and my Girlfriend (the only residents at the property) had gone out that day during that time about 30 miles away when the call was supposed to have occurred. I was able to get the charged refunded with ease because of this and today I am sat in the call centre with a colleague just having dealt with a customer with the same issue. 4 years on from this post and this is still an ongoing issue and I would like someone to find and stop this from happening

Joanne says:
19 August 2018

I have been with sky for 10 years my bill was no more than £50 a month I never used my landline it was only for internet for 6 months I argued with sky as my bills were over £200 every month phone numbers appeared on my bill and the numbers never existed I first complained as I had cordless fones and when I picked my fone up it was engaged and no one was in my house it freaked me out a bit i even got the police invold my last bill from sky was £ 275 i stoped my direct debit and told sky I am not paying for calls I never made if anything the months i did pay they should be paying me back i was so up set no one cared or helped I now had to go with other company after been a loyal customer to sky :((

Kate R says:
29 September 2018

£7 with of calls to unknown numbers and the speaking clock in this month’s BT bill, which is mysterious seeing as I don’t actually have a phone handset plugged in, its just a PSTN line for internet

Kate log in to MY BT go to complaints , click on , then contact by email , then fill in the boxes and complaint – send email . They are obliged to answer you in 4/5 working days , you will be given an complaint number by email , you can tick-contact by phone/email . Its possible to get 123-118 blocked but you might or might not have to,pay for the privilege depending on your circumstances . Also log into -community bt.com (forum ) there are professionals you can ask for advice and get a Moderator to take up your case click on https://community.bt.com –this website is for BT customers ONLY .

Helen Ryan says:
18 December 2018

I have been finding 123 calls on my phone bill for over a year. BT say its not them, initially they said the phantom calls could be made by a fax machine – I don’t have a fax machine, then they said it could be my alarm system routing through the broadband. Initially that made sense until I realised I don’t have broadband, my internet is via satellite.

The alarm company were quite amused, apparently the alarm doesn’t have the functionality to check to see if it is working, so back to square one. Who or what is dialling 123, calls are sporadic, no set time or day, they last from 1 to 12 seconds, and occur when there is no-one in the house.

If BT aren’t responsible, then who is?

To date, in 2018, the phantom calls have added £4.00 to my phone bills, its not a lot but I object to paying for calls I neither need to make or have made.

Helen -satellite broadband is just another means of connecting you to —–the world wide web. which is USA led broadband .
Second, having repaired network underground alarm company systems they connect via the telephone exchange as a private circuit not using dial tone OR they can connect in modern systems via an IP network using a web server .
It depends on your alarm system — old style had dial up .
Even though I have worked for BT I would not discount it coming from a landline phone as years ago I bought a DECT phone from BT that had an automatic dialer built into the firmware that dialed 123/ 118 . I returned it .
Then I got BT to block those premium calls in their equipment.
This was not easy to achieve and they dont publicise it but it seems they will do it now
so click on –
https://www.bt.com/static/i/microsite/help_and_tips/faults/troubleshooting/barring.html and read the facilities available to BT customers which includes -premium call barring , it does cost a small monthly charge though. Please note though this isn’t the same service as nuisance call barring .

This doesn’t prove conclusively its BT,s fault though .
I have now been able to obtain BT,s own long list of call barring via their electronic exchanges for use on landlines as a technical PDF.

Brian Mac says:
27 December 2018

I noticed a single call to 123 on my December Plusnet bill. Strange as we make calls using our mobile phones and who needs to call 123 when the time is already on your mobile. Digging into the bill I noticed that the call was made at the same time I took a photo of an “engineer” up the telegraph pole that our telephone line is connected to. I remember taking the photo wondering what he could possibly be doing.
The date/time of photo and call matched and I assume it was one of the two “engineers” that made the call. Looking again at the photo I now think he worked for Kelly who I believe Openreach have outsourced work to.
Full marks to Plusnet, who will give me a credit, after explaining that someone in my house must have made the call.
I guess having a freephone number that engineers can call is not beyond the realms of possibility?

The reason that a Kelly engineer is up the pole your overhead line is connected to Brian is that you will see a black box at the top that houses 20+ individual pairs of wires to provide service to just to you but your neighbours .
Obviously they were working on a fault condition relating to a neighbour .
Your right the Kelly engineer was testing a line using 123 .
As I worked for BT I dont know what code the Kelly engineers use but BT are banned from dialing 123 as there is a BT engineering test number that can be used that doesn’t appear on the customers bill .

I am with BT, and noticed I was charged an extra £1 for landline phone calls, even though I don’t own a landline telephone at home. when I checked the bill it said 2 calls were made to the number ‘123’.

Anna He says:
29 January 2019

This is still happening in 2019. I received from Plusnet a 50p charge in my January 2019 invoice for a call to 123 that I had definitely not made. I did a quick internet search and surely enough this page came up among others. It happens that the area telephone exchange is physically in front of my fore court. Immediately I remembered that around a month earlier there were a couple of engineers working on it. When I asked them if there was a problem and whether I should expect any temporary interruption to my broadband connexion, they replied there wasn’t any problem and they were just carrying out some tests. Plusnet agreed to drop the charge after I explained the info on this page to them.

Alan Lee says:
10 September 2019

I know its rare and only 10/- but it’s the principle. I’m talking about this on the PlusNet Community https://community.plus.net/t5/My-Account-Billing/PlusNet-1800-an-hour-phone-bill/td-p/1670063 and it is very interesting how this may happen!

In my case, not only was it a call we did not make, but PlusNet charged me 50p for a one-second call!

That is £30 per minute or £1,800 per hour!

Gail says:
14 March 2019

I found about 20 calls a day to an 0330 number from my 90 year old Mum’s phone. She has a BT landline but calls with SkyTalk. There is no way she has made these calls, some were early morning, some late at night and some only within 20 minutes of each other. I’m suspicious that her Smart GasMeter is using her line to send data to British Gas and am in the process of finding this out but I wondered if anyone else has had the same problem .The calls are charged at around 50p per minute.

GordonT says:
9 April 2019

Just had to call my provider (Post Office) to remove a charge of 26p for a 2 second call to 123 on a day I was not at home. My phone stores all the numbers I call so I know the phone was not used.

Alan Lee says:
9 September 2019

Not only was it a call we did not make, but PlusNet charged me 50p for a one-second call!

That is £30 per minute or £1,800 per hour!

Alan Lee says:
10 September 2019

Please see https://community.plus.net/t5/My-Account-Billing/PlusNet-1800-an-hour-phone-bill/td-p/1670063 and follow what PlusNet say it is very interesting how this may happen!

Who know, I may even get my 10 bob refunded 🙂

neil sjoberg says:
23 September 2019

On my utility warehouse bill for a landline we rarely use were 84 calls on one day and 23 calls to 123 ,our bill was well over £100 for one month. 123 is apparently the talking clock-why would we ever phone the tlking clock? Our provider is investigating!

My latest Plusnet bill was a little higher than usual and I found that I had some chargeable calls. Very odd because I don’t make any chargeable calls on landline! Some calls were to 123 (speaking clock – charge 50p) and some local calls to numbers I don’t recognise (for just a few seconds) but each charged at 36p.
I then went back through my bills to March 2019 and found the same thing happened in those. Plusnet refunded straight away but how on earth can this be acceptable? Where’s OFCOM?

Senex says:
11 October 2019

There is a valid way to make such a call without realising it. My wife did 2 days ago! If you have a BT 8500 cordless phone system, on occasions if you start dialling as soon as you pick up the phone – and don’t check – the initial 0 of the area code does not register. Perhaps other systems do this too?

Our call was to an area code number beginning 0123 and the call went through to the speaking clock. I was able to pinpoint the call on the phone’s call list, including a correct connection seconds later to the ‘0123xxxx number.

So beware! 🙂

Yes Senex as a lifetime BT customer I bought their dect phone directly from them , it did not take me long to find out it was dialling -123 on its OWN through the firmware .
I managed to get onto their tech department in the south of England who told me to return the phone and while there I got them to bar premium calls and 123 calls through the exchange equipment but it costs me in rental .
I may add when I first contacted BT they did not believe me , it was only because I was an ex BT engineer that I was able to ask technical questions hence being transferred south ,it took a week of arguing .