/ 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?


We seem to get a number of power cuts during the course of the year, usually in the middle of the night and of momentary duration. Unfortunately, they stop the in-built clocks on various gadgets and appliances. In order to reset them I tend to go around the house with the portable telephone receiver listening to the Speaking Clock [she sounds so much more friendly these days]. So there are usually at least one and sometimes two 123 calls every month; I would never know if an extra rogue call was listed. However, I never look at the bill because the calls are free within the tariff and I suspect that this is the case for many BT customers. I could of course go around the house with the radio-signalled alarm clock but I prefer hearing the time at the third stroke from the young BT lady herself. . . . Precisely.

Many years ago, I caught an engineer dialling 123 to test my line while in my home and I voiced my disapproval. I don’t understand why the engineers use a chargeable number for test calls. There are plenty of other free alternatives without having to waste customers’ money.

When I was a teenager, a telephone engineer gave my parents a number to test the line. You called this number, replaced the receiver and the phone would ring. I have no idea if there was a charge. Thanks to itemised billing we now have to opportunity to check bills for unexpected charges.

Spotted rogue 123 calls on my TalkTalk bill earlier in the year. Contacted TalkTalk to query the charges and although they couldn’t shed any light on the matter they gave me a refund. Then my wife and I remembered there had been an engineer up the pole in a neighbour’s garden on the date, and time, that the calls appeared on the bill. The irony of it was that we didn’t have a fault, so the fault must have been on someone else’s line … there are at least six other lines coming off that pole … so quite why they tested our line I don’t know. The engineer worked for Kelly Telecommunications. I directed him to the pole. Yes, I know … I’ve only got myself to blame. I’m guessing they were sub-contracted, because a few weeks later Openreach engineers appeared to work on the same pole. I spoke to them and made them aware of the problem. They said they’d pass it on.

Interesting, thanks for sharing your story on this Hab. Any other examples like this people?

Cherry says:
20 September 2014

Yes, I had a series of about eight 123 calls on my bill the day a BT Openreach engineer visited to investigate a fault on my phone. I phoned my provider and after some discussion – I explained that the calls (itemised on my bill) were made during the time that the engineer was investigating the fault and I didn’t have access to my phone – they agreed to refund the cost of the calls.

I am forwarding the link to this article to them as they were questioning why the Openreach engineer would make 123 calls.

Cherry says:
20 September 2014

It was actually 18 calls – just rechecked the bill!

El Kapitan Des Locos says:
20 September 2014

Kelly Telecommunications are a bunch of cheapskate, under-trained, under-skilled con-men. I keep hearing about them in this context.

They ‘installed’ my broadband, and I would have been better off on my own – the master socket is now LOOSE on the wall, the screws don’t hold it in tightly – which was acceptable as an installation by the extremely ghetto-looking ‘engineer’…
*note: looks don’t matter, but ghetto attitude isn’t good, I know, I live there*

SKILLS do matter – and one thing ghetto people know well is not to work hard when you’re not paid enough to do so, which obviously Kelly aren’t interested in doing, going by the ‘skills’ on display.
Since Openreach started sub-contracting the work, did your BT bill go DOWN to account for the cheaper labour, or UP, because a state-sanctioned monopoly given by the Tories is the best way to make money? THINK next time you vote…

I have just tried to log onto my BT account but it was unavailable due to “we are making some changes at the moment.” I normally do check the detailed numbers because on a couple of occasions there has been a mysterious charge of about £1.10 followed by a small case ‘i’ contained within a circle followed by 0118. I queried this with BT who informed me it was a directory enquiries number. As I never use directory enquiries and couldn’t understand why it had been included on my bill they couldn’t explain it either. No one else has access to my phone and I can usually find a number on the internet so have no need for directory enquiries. It happened on two occasions but not since I queried it.

Directory enquiries begin 118.

The 0118 area code is Reading.

Jo: You are correct the number I was charged for was 118. BT are back online to-day with a updated system and checking for past history usage is now like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack! I have since discovered you can access 192.com for free directory enquiries. You only pay to access info you are unable to find on any other directory service. Since I have no use for this I am wondering if anyone else has tried it.

Cynthia says:
23 November 2014

If you press the “help Button” on a BT handset it calls directory enquiries. I pressed it out of curiosity.

Cynthia says:
11 December 2014

Yes… So did I

D.A.Watson. says:
19 September 2014

My August landline account from EE included a charge of £5.00 against a purported call to 118500, directory enquiries. Neither my wife nor myself were at home at the time of the call. I telephoned EE who were adamant the call had been made. I followed my call up with a letter and an email. Initially EE refused to accept that the call had not been made from our landline but eventually though subsequent emails they phoned me to concede that in order to bring the matter to a conclusion they would credit my account for the £5.00 charge on my next monthly account. It obviously pays to check all phone accounts even when “Any time” free calls are part of the package.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

My mother had a number with an std code in the Peak District appear twice on her bill two days apart BT gave a refund. On the next bill the number appeared again this time Bt refused because the number appeared on an earlier bill although she had not called anybody in the Peak District. I called the number and you immediately get the message “all lines are busy please hold” we are trying to connect you which just repeats it’s self. Ihave seen this scam on forums that said Yorkshire police where looking into it but i have heard no more

My mother who is elderly and living on a small pension received a bill from talktalk with a call added to the speaking clock for over £5 – after much hassle with them they very begrudgingly refunded the money. The call made was supposed to be at 4.30am and we knew for sure this was impossible as she was with my family in Surrey and the house was empty with no key holders. We have now left talktalk for good and we have created a large family cooperative so any bad practices from utility companies we all leave en mass and do not return. They were rude and patronising and stated in an email it was impossible for anyone else to have made the call.

El Kapitan Des Locos says:
20 September 2014

Mike your “we have created a large family cooperative so any bad practices from utility companies we all leave en mass and do not return. ”

Shame collective action is being bred-out of this pathetic country. That’s what you get with an economy that needs ignorant sheep to actually work. Some can do better and get the better lifestyle and culture and GDP that goes with it.
Respect to you sir!

I think that tolerance and generosity is one of the best character traits of this nation and at times it downfall – my relatives overseas are very glad they left – and hopefully in ten years when we retire we will also leave – thank goodness we never had children

Taylors WYorks says:
20 September 2014

We have very poor broadband out in the sticks (actually in the heart of built-up West Yorkshire, though third world in broadband terms) and we regularly have to get BT to fix the line when we have no service. We have often found rogue 123 calls on our bill after the engineer has been, sometimes amounting to several pounds. We have managed to get these refunded but it’s a real pain, taking 20 minutes or more of trying to get someone in an Indian call centre to understand what the problem is. They always start off by saying “You must have made the calls” and you have to get quite pushy before they will agree to a refund.

Ddenmik says:
20 September 2014

I had a charge for Speaking Clock some months ago with BT. When I pointed out that no one was in the house at the time of the alleged call, the money was refunded. However, I was asked if I had a Sky box,( I don’t) , as this appliance can, I was advised, sometime trigger calls of this type.

Jonathan1000 says:
20 September 2014

This happened to me once. I knew it wasn’t made by me as I live alone, only use the line for broadband and have never connected a landline or anything needing a landline connection such as a sky box. I guessed it was an engineer testing some lines after reading similar on the Internet, didn’t bother pursuing as only 50p and have experienced my service providers contact centres before…

On July 25th I was charged for a 123 call, £0.50 that I didn’t make as I wasn’t even here. Strange to say, that week we had Openreach working locally on fibre optic installation. I haven’t taken this up with my provider, Sky, as it costs more to ring them and wait to be dealt with than its worth. Reading e-mails from others, it appears that yet again WE are wrong and the system providers are right. Nothing new there then.

David: You mentioned to complain to Sky ” It costs more to ring them than it is worth”

From 26th June this year ALL Retailers and Subscribed Services e.g. including Magazines etc. must make available and advertise a Customer Service/Complaints Line number that is 01/02 or 03, these are accepted on all Landlines and on Mobiles are accepted as ‘inclusive minutes’ and charged as such.

Have a look on the Sky Web site which should show the new 0344 number, as far as I know the only number Sky have kept as 0844 is if you want to Upgrade your Sky Package, CHEEKY TO GET MORE MONEY OUT OF YOU.

We were charged 50p last month for a speaking clock call we did not make. I ‘phoned Talk Talk and they said it had been reported to them and someone must have made it, but they gave us an immediate refund without any problem.

I’ve heard of this before. My Internet Service Provider have reported wires being “misappropriated” by contractors working on the lines. One particular engineer even referred to “the 123 test” when questioned about it.

My ISP do provide the voice side of lines too, but all chargeable calls are barred, so this “test”, which they should not be doing anyway, would fail. The manager has been thinking of making 123 go through to a special message for these lines.

If this happens to us, would it do any good to go to Trading Standards, or should we just foot the bill if the telephone company refuses to refund?

I wouldn’t perch on the edge of your seat in eager anticipation but Ofcom might be the best place to start. I reckon Trading Standards would either flounder with this one or refer you straight to Ofcom.

I,ve actually received a number of calls from ” 123 ” and these have been recorded on my ansaphone but with no related voice messages .

So far no sign of related charges on my phone bill but I have reported the matter to BT who seemed to be aware of the problem but were not forthcoming as to the reason for these calls .

I had two alleged 123 calls made from my father’s house, after he had died, and the house was completely empty. It was a bit spooky as he did use to use 123 occasionally! They were the only calls on the bill and BTdid refund me the money.

Ray Wood says:
24 September 2014

On our BT bill earlier this year we had a number of calls to numbers we did not recognise some for several pounds. BT refused to refund these although we insisted we did not make the calls.
We are no longer with BT having been a customer for 43 years.

Susan Tickner says:
26 September 2014

How spooky is that! I have just received my very vulnerable, elderly Mother-in-laws telephone bill, and on it are listed 1 x 123 charge, and 1 x 123 5 charge and just dismissed them as ‘blips’
The day after I noted the 123 numbers I read the article in Octobers Which? magazine.
Because of the article, I have e mailed BT asking them to refund the cost of the calls, stating that because of my Mother-in-laws mental health, she would know nothing about the 123 time number.
I know the total cost is only £0.73, but I consider this theft, and theft from a pensioner, no less!

Susan Tickner says:
28 September 2014

I reported 2 such calls for my elderly, vulnerable mother-in-law, to BT on 26/09/14.
I have just had a call from BT telling me that an engineer would have to call the 123 number from the property where the phone is installed for the number to appear on the bill. Is this correct, as some comments here seem to imply that that is not the case.
He was adamant that this was the case.

William says:
28 September 2014

This is nonsense – you need to challenge them on this as they will say anything to increase their revenue and targets.

If you feel it’s theft, use this