/ 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?


I reported a fault to PlusNet in August which was not resolved until around mid-September following the visit of a 5th BT engineer who seemed to be the only one who understand how telephone lines are connected.
This fault caused high noise levels on the line. I now find that during this period I have been charged for 28 calls to 123 (some in the early hours of morning eg around 2am) at 50p a time and 1 call to 118411 for 9 secs at 2.39am costing £4.30. PlusNet have agreed to refund the sept. calls as a goodwill gesture. I have yet to claim for those in August as I have only just noticed them.
Whilst it some cases it could be the engineers in my case the early hour calls cannot implicate them therefore I am confident that some fault connection situations are resulting in these phantom calls but getting BT and PlusNet on board to investigate may well be impossible.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

have just been charged for 3 calls supposedly in quick succession
rang BT ‘Helpdesk’ and the person would not accept that I had not made the calls – he said ‘he’d checked the line’ and there was nothing wrong – implying I was lying or mistaken.
I asked to be put through to a supervisor, but after waiting over 15 min. line went dead

what do I do now?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

posted on the bt forum, and what sounds like an executive rang – but I was out, so he said he would re-contact me on his return on the 10th – noticed ‘openreach’van on estate – dk if relevant – will keep you informed

his email below

BT Community Forum

Discussion Thread
Response Via Email (Daniel) 03/11/2016 12:58 PM
Good Afternoon Antonia,

Thanks for taking the time to contact us over the BT.com Forums.

I called you today to speak with you about the calls that have appeared on your bill. They are rather odd especially as you have never made them before. Did you notice any issues with your telephone line around the 3rd of October? If you had a crossed line telephone fault it’s possible that another person made those calls or else an engineer testing the line tested to see if it was working by calling 123.

I am personally out of the office until the 10/11/2016 but I can gladly help you further with this and hopefully be able to give you the outcome you want.

Daniel Sheerin
BT.com Forum Moderation Team

This comment was removed at the request of the user

SUCCESS! tho ‘ I’ll wait to see my revised bill – I did mention I was keeping you posted
Good Afternoon Antonia,

‘Thanks for getting back to me. As I mentioned in my first email, I am just back in the office today. I called you at home but missed you. I left a voicemail to say that I would reply to you by email.

I wanted to speak with you about everything. As I can’t reach you, I would like to tell you that I am happy to remove the charges for you. In my own personal experience, I will always listen to my Customer to work out what happened and do my best to help you. I believe everyone should be reasonable and listen to our Customer needs. Are you happy for me to apply the credit back onto your account? Is there anything else that I can help you with at all?

– If you need more information on our Complaints Process then please go to http://www.bt.com/complaints where you can also see our Customer Complaints Code of Practice
– If we don’t hear from you by 8th Dec 2016 we’ll assume that you don’t need us to take any further action and that it’s okay to close your complaint

Thank you

Best wishes

BT.com Forum Moderation Team’

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Hi i am going through the same now 78 calls last month and not one of them made by me yet after contacting BT help chat i have been told i have made the calls even though not one single call was made from our landline last month. also majority of the calls were made when we were either asleep or in work. also i have an itemised call list on my phone which shows every single number dialled and received, Bt are adamant i made these calls andv wil not refund me.

I recently contacted sky about a charge on my bill at the end of September- 118 018 direct enquiries call for 5 minutes cost £10. Nobody in the house that afternoon, & why would I ring that number when I use the Internet to look up any numbers. Advised me that someone in the house has made the call and I will have to pay. Going to write in official complaint and contact ofcom in the meantime. Is there any way of finding out if an engineer was working in the area that day? Joined sky for calls at end of August, and upgraded to fibre in September.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

BT are the absolute worst, I do NOT have a home phone, therefore I DO NOT have one plugged in, and now it is showing on my BT statement that I made a call to 123 (which I didn’t even know existed before today!) last Wednesday, when I wasn’t even at home! I asked how I would dispute this and was told that they will uphold it! This is legalised theft!

as I did, get onto BT forum

which is how I got a response

I feel your pain… I have 161 calls to 123 in three months and still growing but no responsibility taken thus far!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I have an issue open with BT Openreach for over a year now that they keep closing without resolution after confirming they need to upgrade the local exchange to resolve the issue and provide me with a stable connection of a minimum 500MB. After coming back from 3 weeks holiday, I have a 123 number in the middle of that period when the house was empty and on monitored alarm, so guess its time to contact BT Openreach for a refund.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Just found a charge for 45p to 123 on my latest EE bill. The call was made at 09:23 on the morning of Christmas Day. As it happens, I was probably still in bed at the time – never mind calling Timeline to find out what time it was!!!!! Anyhoo, I phoned EE and was promised that the charge would be removed from my bill, so my only complaint is in respect of the 15mins or so of my life wasted resolving a problem created by idiot BT engineers. Rant ends.

I checked my December Sky bill as I had 35 calls made listed and I have never used my home telephone since installation and am suspicious, in fact I do not even have a phone even connected, I use the service and line for one reason and thats for my internet never to use the home phone.

I had 35 calls, all just connecting calls lasting seconds, none were more than 5 seconds but every single one accounted for a minimum 0.29p charge. My bill had in total 35 calls and over £10 worth of calls, all to one number and never made. In fact on some dates I wasn’t even here but with family over xmas.

Has anyone else had this problem with Sky because I am taking this further and would like some more evidence because if they were doing this to other customers what easy money to make thinking it is unnoticed? Please can someone help or advise

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I’m having the same problem and they are fobbing me off. I’m never in when the calls are made and the phone is unplugged. I have lodged a complaint.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Mike says:
7 March 2017

This happened to me last month. I don’t use BT’s landline since we don’t own a phone and only got the landline for BT’s internet.
BT’s UK call centre staff was absolutely adamant that I placed the 1 second call to 123 speaking clock. She wouldn’t listen that we don’t even own a phone in the house and all she had to do was check my bills that NO call was EVER made through the landline since we don’t have a phone in the house. She talked over me and went on for 10 min insisting that that 1 second call was made and thus it was charged.
It was a nightmare listening to her try to force us to accept that 45p charge. It wasn’t until I insisted on disputing the charge until she relented and took that 45p charge off after seeing from our bills that I have never used the landline before.
I cannot imagine how many others were unknowingly charged the 45p charge or have been forced to accept the charge even if they caught it.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Martin says:
20 April 2017

Just had my bill showing in excess of 50 calls, mixed local (which I have tried since from another location and its no longer active) and for 123, a bill for calls of £13.50 when the house was vacant and the phones unplugged. Just spoke with BT customer service, they don’t believe me but why would I ring the speaking clock within 10 mins again unless I have suddenly got Alzheimer’s? BT now monitoring the line for a month to see if a repeat or a fault is identified. I have no confidence and they will not refund me.

My April 2017 BT bill included a call to 123 which we never made. We didn’t even know the number of the speaking clock, as we don’t need it, nor were we at home at the time of the call. I phoned BT and after a 12 minute conversation they agreed to refund the charge, but warned me that if it happened again I would not be able to get a refund! I thanked them politely but stated that if it happened again I would certainly dispute the charge most vigorously.

Mel says:
21 July 2017

Just by chance I came across my April bill which show ed a strange charge to a 9 digit number for 45p.
Having contacted my EE provider,they had no idea what the number was, and got a refund. As it turns out , I had omitted 3 numbers on a call because I didn’t check before ringing it. Having missed out a 0 followed by the other numbers 123 etc the system thought I had called the phone time line direct and I got billed for it.
So people , check your bills . I normally do, but as it’s a fixed contract I didn’t that time. I will now! How many other customers are inadvertently being fleeced ?

Is this the new 123 scam by BT? In June and July I was charged for 20 calls to 08456014538, a Service No., all lasted 15 secs and charge was the connection charge of £0.135 so no premium scam involved. The total amount is only £2.60 but it is very irritating and I am complaining.
When I called the number the response was 15 secs of electronic bleeping, perhaps just the thing a BT engineer would need! Has anybody else had a similar experience?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I signed up with Vodafone for fiber broadband and home phone, I’ve recently checked my bill and found a call to 123 for 1 minute on the same day the line was switched over, this happened when the house was empty, after contacting Vodafone they refunded the charge without question, although they seem to think someone at home made the call, i asked for premium calls to be blocked on my line, but sadly this is not an option for landlines, if this is engineers testing the line they should get their asses kicked for the hassle it causes, and the time wasted querying the bill, seriously who calls 123 to find out the time any more?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

dave dee says:
3 September 2017

Just received my EE home phone/broadband bill and found 2 calls to 123 one for 1 sec and other for 3 secs which I have definitely not made–until I did a bit of research didn’t even know it was the speaking clock!!—cost to me 45p each call. Contacted customer services to query it and have to say they were very good about it and credited me and were as puzzled as me as to how it had occurred.
The moral of the story is check your bills folks something sinister about.

Its a deliberate ploy by the telecoms companies so you can be overcharged (by accident!!), and will be re-embursed, only if you notice it!!
If you don’t then you pay the charges.
And here’s the rub.
I’ve seen online that EE’s voicemail is 222. Any voicemail message i get instructs me to call 123, which does in fact connect with my voice mail. But what if I am being charged for the speaking clock when I phone 123 for my voice mail. My phone is a company phone and is paid for by my employer, I never see the bill.

This really has been going on for far too long. It’s the second time it’s happened to me, nothing by comparison to some I admit but it irritates the hell out of me. I know that it is extremely common, engineers testing the line I believe! 123 should be done away with altogether. Is there anybody still crazy enough to use it? It’s just a nice little income trickle and there is no interest in preventing the ‘theft’.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

T. Jacobs says:
17 October 2017

BT tried to charge me for a two second call to 123, costing £0.45. I never call the Speaking Clock. This was at the time when an Openreach engineer was testing my line having fixed a fault. Openreach are correct in stating that they have a special number that engineers can use to test the line, but the response time is not always instantaneous, and I suspect that some engineers use alternatives when they lose patience or are under pressure to meet deadlines for jobs to which they are assigned.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Hi – apologies if this I isnt the correct thread but any help would be appreciated. I have EE broadband which comes to around £40 a month, I only use it for internet access and don’t have a phone plugged in. My most recent EE broadband bill was £226.95, which includes £188.50 of calls made from the number (despite not having a phone plugged in). The calls were made pretty much every couple of minutes (the itemised phone bill is 27 pages long) and as I say I havent made a single call – I’ve not used a landline in years, so I have no idea whatsoever what the calls are. They were made pretty much to the same few numbers, all a couple of digits different, largely when I was at work or during the night, and there’s no one else could have made the calls. I phoned EE, who contacted BT who have identified that there is a fault on the line, which is being looked at. EE advised that they can’t refund any of the money (it’s already come out of my account), and I will be charged for the calls up to the point that I reported it (ie last night), but as a ‘goodwill’ gesture they won’t charge any calls from last night until it’s been fixed. Does this sound right? Should I be contacting BT to seek a refund on the bill – I’ve not heard yet what the cause was -, or is this something I should be taking up with EE? Or is it something I’m going to have to grin and take? I’m not tech savvy but I have no idea whats happened but if I hadn’t checked the itemised bill I wouldn’t have noticed this… any help at all would really be appreciated.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Hi Duncan – thank you so much for the response, what you’ve been written makes sense. Basically at the moment I’m waiting to find out what the cause of the fault on the phone line is – basically after i found the issue I contacted EE who contacted BT who ran an initial line test and apparently found a fault on the line and that EE would contact me when it’s fixed, so I guess I need to find out what the issue is beforehand knowing what the next step is. Personally it feels like fraudulent activity as the telephone calls are made in batches, every minute or so for about 30 seconds, incurring the same charge before ending then ringing again, and the numbers are all the same or almost identical. As I say there’s been hundreds, lasting a relatively short period of time to the sameness numbers so it doesn’t really feel like a crossed line. I live in a quite small village, in a semi so I’d be surprised if it was a neighbour (they’re generally quite elderly) though I have been quite naive I guess. Also, after discovering the issue with my latest bill I’ve gone through itemised bills from the last half year and found a total of about £420 in calls that I haven’t made. If nothing else it’s taught me a lesson to check my bills closer. As I say I’m waiting to find out when the fault has been resolved and hopefully the cause of it and I’ll let you know, but again any help is massively appreciated. Cheers, Chris

Hi Chris, have you searched your number or any of the dialled numbers on the internet?
Put a number in double quotes to move spaces around for different results.
e.g. “01234 567 890” “0123 456 7890” “123 456 7890”

Duncan used to work for BT so hopefully he can help you get to the bottom of this.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Being curious, i’d try ringing the number(s) to find out who answers.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

For 50p at least you’d know who the call was to. Chris has already lost £420.

Emily P says:
11 November 2017

I got charged 45p in July 2017 on my first BT bill for a 123 call I didn’t make.
I phoned BT and they refunded it.
I’ve just spotted another on October’s bill. Phoned BT again and they’ve said they will refund it.
They can’t give me any reassurance that this won’t happen again, and they don’t know why it’s happening. Most odd and annoying.
It has never happened with any other service provider I have used.

Janet says:
11 November 2017

On my bill today, I found a single call made from my BT line on 7 August. It lasted 0.01 mins. and cost 45p. No number was specified. I rang BT and said it was impossible for this call to have been made from my line since I was away for three weeks at that time and the house was empty. Also, I never (ever!)make calls from that line, since I have a separate line with free calls (also BT). The BT person I spoke to ‘investigated’, said the call was made to a 123 number and that he did not understand why it had happened. Without my having to ask, he offered to credit the 45p to my account and suggested I monitor my next bill closely (not difficult, since it should show no calls at all – only the broadband costs). He asked me to phone again if the problem recurred. When I went online and found all the above posts, it started to make sense… It does seem, by now, that BT recognises there is a problem.

PeterS says:
20 December 2017

My latest BT bill showed a 123 call on Wednesday 15th November. It also lasted 1 second and I was billed 45p for it. I complained, using BT’s online form (https://www.bt.com/help/home/complaints.html), and received the following email reply, which gives a reason that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

I understand you have had a recent Timeline charge on your recent bill, and that you have taken the time to attach the ‘Which?’ guide to the Timeline calls. What this guide doesn’t advice is that these Timeline calls aren’t just caused by someone picking up the handset and dialling the 123 number, these calls can be made by any devices that are connected to your landline. Sometimes the time stamp with these devices can be reset due to voltage fluctuation or any fault. If you have connected your phone with any devices (like Fax, Alarm system, Security system or Vision box) then some time any of such devices require the time stamp to work efficiently.

Please be assured that BT is fully digitalized hence all the calls made from your land line gets updated on the system automatically.

I will on this occasion remove the Timeline from the bill and this will be deducted from your next bill. Any future Timeline calls will have to be maintained as correct.

The only device attached to the landline is a BT 6500 “Nuisance Call Blocker” cordless phone with answer machine. I have certainly been beeped by the handset after a power fail, with it telling me to confirm the time. It looks as though BT’s handset may call Timeline for itself if there is a power glitch, and I shall be billed 45p each time that happens.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

In discussion with plusnet about precisely this – didnt know what 123 was until I googled it and found this page . 10 x 123 calls between 24th and 27th Jan. On top of that 21 calls in the same month, to local numbers none of which I recognise. Plusnet suggested possible cross line and a potential engineer call out..

Ideally I dont want a landline, but am forced to have it to get broadband. The quality of the line can be pretty shocking especially after bad weather !

End result, Plusnet have credited my account to cover above calls – I have also advised them that I am officially unplugging my phone as I do not use it (unlimited minutes on Mobile) and will be monitoring the bill on an ongoing basis.