/ 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 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?

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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.

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!

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! 🙂

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” it did not take me long to find out [BT’s own sold DECT phone] was dialling -123 on its OWN through the firmware.

Were they able to upgrade/flash this over the lines, Duncan? If not, this is (possibly innocent/possibly fraudulent) continued widespread fraud. If it was possible and they didn’t do so after your alert, it is all the above possibly plus exemplaries if taken to task.

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I am with PlusNet for my broadband and do not have a telephone and yet this months bill shows a call to 123 for 0.01 seconds charging me 50p.
I shouldn’t have to look out for calls made by OpenReach engineers. How many customers don’t check and pay this? PlusNet is part of BT and so is OpenReach…….. say no more

Andrew says:
15 November 2019

This happened under my previous provider Plusnet. I did get calls reimbursed once but they said if it happened again they wouldn’t afford me the same treatment! In the meantime I switched to BT resulting in a much better broadband service. However, last night my phone started to ring faintly – I picked up the handset after it had done this a few times, and then heard my phone dialling out!! It stopped, and then did it all over again and this happened numerous times. I will be contacting BT about this – I haven’t looked at my bills yet but no doubt there will be some charges!!

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Today I received my regular quarterly bill from Post Office and discover there is a call to 123 costing 26p plus VAT. Immediately I rang Post Office to ask for a refund telling them I could not possibly have made the call as I live alone and was in holiday for the week several hundred miles away on the date of the call. I was basically told I was lying and am I sure nobody else didn’t make the call. The rep also refused to put me through to a manager. After 15 mins of waiting twice on hold for the customer service to even locate my bill on their system they offered a refund of the call but not he VAT. At this point I was quite irritated and told them I would take the complaint further if they didn’t refund the whole amount. Not only did I have the proof [screenshot of hotel booking thanking me for my stay, and screenshots showing my photos taken at the seaside at the time of the call] proving I was not at home but that they should have the courtesy to refund in full including the VAT.]. The rep said BT Engineers could not possibly have made a call from my phone as they would have to break in! She also couldn’t calculate the VAT herself in her head so when I calculated it for her she said she would refund it and asked if I had the right figure. Yes I can calculate VAT in my head! I won’t know if I actually was refunded until my next bill, but I was offered nothing for all the inconvenience. BBC Watchdog could do with learning about this. I wrote a swift letter of complaint to Post Office after the call enclosing screenshots and will await to hear what answer they have to accusing me of being a liar when I have concrete evidence that I was several hundred miles away from my home and can even provide debit card receipts of my purchases at the seaside on the day of the call as well. I am disgusted that the telephone providers do not train their staff to know that BT engineers do this! Incensed about this!

Just a quick point of order regarding VAT – the refund will go on the bill – and VAT automatically applied to it – so you will get the VAT back. Your persistence and their capitulation will mean you get 22.22222222% too much!

William Lawton says:
28 November 2019

I don’t own a landline phone and use the line purely for broadband so it was obvious when these phantom calls showed up on my bill. 22 calls in total across a few days in November. Some to 123 at strange times like 03:59 and others to a range of numbers starting 01536 211***. One BT support person tried to persuade me it was my cheap Yale alarm that was making the calls. Not unless someone has given it a significant upgrade! BT agreed to refund me the call costs plus an extra tenner and assured me it wouldn’t happen again. But considering they said they don’t know who made the calls or how, I dont have much faith in that.

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Of course the other way phantom calls can be made is by clipping a phone on the A/B wires outside of the property.

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Indeed – but these days they just use a tone dialler on the mouthpiece – stuffed.

In a similar vein, you could also easily hear folk tap-dialling or back-dialling to save the few coppers in the old payphones whose dial only activiated the 1-8 after being satisfied with coins (with 9 and 0 being active for emergency calls).

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I did it to prove the point a few times – certainly not for any significant gain.

I did it for real once – for a friend – to phone for a doctor, from a vandalised call box (the dial had been screwed off its moorings). Back in the sixties not many of my friends – or us – had a phone of our own. Explaining it proved too much – especially as the doctor’s phone number had a zero in it – tapping in ten times for that really didn’t compute to the distraught mother…

I have just had a bill from Plusnet for a month of calls including a number of calls to 123. I didn’t even know that 123 was the speaking clock!
There has been no one in the house for the full time of the bill – we are overseas! Currently Plus Net say the calls were made and must be paid for. None were for more than a couple of seconds but cost 36 pence each. Plus 50p for each 123 call. I have asked a neighbour to disconnect the phone.
I will continue the complaint when we return to the country in the Spring.