/ 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?


Charged 45 p for a 123 call on 18/11/20. I did not make this call. I’m with EE. Who should I complain to ?

Jon M says:
6 January 2021

Charged 40p for a national call that the BT Openreach engineer made whilst on-site on 17/10/2020. It’s not a number you would remember like 123, I believe it’s a BT testing number in Derby (and it wasn’t typed manually either). BT charged me anyway and no way to refund.

Just had my latest BT Bill and been charged 50p for a call to 123 on 13/01/21. But we haven’t had a phone plugged into our landline since last July. Rung BT 5 times today, got through the automated filters and each time the call rang a few times then cut out.

I have been Charged for almost £20 over the last 2 months for speaking clock calls. Virgin Media say they will not refund calls because they say we have made the calls.

Janet Davies says:
17 March 2021

Just happened to check my by Bill and noticed a 50p charge for a 123 number. Has it happened an openreach engineer was working on the pole outside my house, exactly the time the charge was made. I have the proof captured on CCTV, so they do use this number.

I’ve just had one on the bill under my landline charges. I was at work at the time of the call! BT are refunding but it just shouldn’t happen in the first place.

Nikki Dunbar says:
9 April 2021

I’ve been charged 50p for 3 calls to 123 in the last month when I do not even have a phone plugged in. I only have the phone line for my internet. Sky have kindly refunded me as a good will gesture but said there were also calls made in Feb which I hadn’t noticed?

Anna Reid says:
14 April 2021

Yes me too, 3 calls within a few minutes, £1.02, 31 March. Wondered if it was changing the time on my phone’s after BST

Rob Spence says:
28 April 2021

I noticed a charge for a 123 call on my bill. I queried it, and the charge has been deleted. In email conversation with my telephone provider, they told me: “it is very annoying as BT are meant to test the lines with a free number but choose not to.” So it would seem BT are basically adding to people’s bills without their knowledge or permission. Why is this allowed to go on?

Doreen Wyatt says:
29 April 2021

I had a charge on my Virgin Media bill. Was told that it couldn’t be deleted or credited. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told they would say the same. When I persisted, they hung up. Have made a formal complaint to Virgin Media.

2 calls to 123 on 11th February 2021 costing £1.00 on BT bill that weren’t made. BT say they weren’t made by Openreach and could only have been made by the homeowner.

If you are on an old fashioned exchange or line, then I believe is possible for line faults to dial 123. But BT may not want to admit that.

Janet Davis says:
26 June 2021

We’re being charged 13p every night since 16/5/21 by BT for supposedly calling a Nottingham number from our landline! But we haven’t had a house phone for months. It’s a mystery … a BT engineer is coming out this week to hopefully sort.

I hope you find the answer, Janet. Please let us know the outcome.

Lou says:
30 June 2021

We moved into a property of a deceased relative and do not have a home phone – the bill in the post today had £35 worth of charges for multiple calls a day costing more than 40p each. The company have apologised and written the bill off but it was distressing because we had to go through notifying the company again of a family death.

Ian Jarratt says:
5 July 2021

Charged for 13 calls over two days when nobody in the house. 6 to the speaking clock for a fraction of a second at 50p a call. All these on a number with no phone connected to it as the line is only used for broadband. Rang Plusnet who are investigating and have cancelled the charges of £5.66.

Thanks for sharing Ian, please let us know if you have any more problems with this.

Alan Garner says:
7 August 2021

Just noticed a sequence of 8 calls billed to ‘123’ number @ 50p a call. Six of the calls apparently took place over two days at the end of June and the other two on two other days within the same week. Half of them were timed in the early hours of the morning. Call duration varied but most were ‘0:00:00’. At the time the calls were supposed to have been made we weren’t at home. PlusNet accepted they were ‘phantom’ calls and agreed to refund the charges.

We were charged 50 for a call to the speaking clock on the 2nd January. We spend Christmas and New Year in the Alps and don’t come back until the second week of January

Roger Wakefield says:
11 August 2021

23 Jul 20:31123 Other calls 00:03:00 £0.50
Three minutes to the speaking Clock ? I don’t think so.

Mrs Yvonne Lee says:
13 August 2021

Just got my bill from BT.Aug 21 Me too, Charged 50p for a call to 123 lasting 00.02 seconds. This won’t do BT. Sneeky way to increase my bill. Don’t care if it was 5p. I want it back. NOW!

Charged £2.00 for 4×0.50p calls to 123 never made on 18 July 2021 at 1,4,7 & 10 minutes after midnight. I have only just received my July bill so not reported to BT yet. I have BT Broadband, BT Sport and BT Mobile services. Is it worth complaining to the Ombudsman? I noted the many similar complaints on the internet which have been ignored by BT etc .
Michael Harrington

Just notified of our latest bill and there is a charge of 50p for calling 123 on the 13th August.
We did not make this call. My husband was on the phone to someone else at this time!
We have spoken to BT billing – as far as they’re concerned we have called the ‘speaking clock’ even though they could see another call was happening at the same time! They have agreed to make a note but declined giving a refund.
Anybody know what ‘Which?’ Is doing with this thread of similar experiences? It looks like it was started in 2014 !!!