Phone cost confusion putting off callers, Ofcom says

Telephones The system of telephone numbers has evolved as technology has advanced

Related Stories

Some people are "put off" making important calls because of confusion over the amount they will be charged, according to the telecoms regulator.

Ofcom is planning a change in the system of "non-geographic" numbers, which start with 03, 08 or 09.

Markham Sivak, who is leading the review, said research had found some phone users believed costs were higher and so decided not to make vital calls.

But the new rules will take more than a year to implement.

The system of phone number prefixes has built up over the years as the technology has advanced.

Ever since numbers moved from solely simple area codes, a whole host of new numbers and charging structures has evolved.

These range from UK-wide numbers used by charities and not-for-profit organisations, to premium rate lines - offering horoscope readings or chat lines - which can cost as much as £2.60 a minute.

An Ofcom guide to the different charges runs to three pages, prompting the regulator to come up with a simplification plan.

"We have a complicated system. It is time to tidy it all up at once, not to make lots of little changes," said Mr Sivak.

Public pressure

At present, 0800 and 0808 calls are free from landlines but are often charged when the calls are made on mobiles. Under the plans all of these "freephone" calls will actually be free.

Phone number prefixes

  • 030: Used by charities and not-for-profit organisations and cost the same as geographic 01 or 02 calls
  • 08: Numbers used by businesses for sales, inquiry or customer service lines
  • 09: Premium rate numbers used for many competitions or recorded information. These are the most expensive

Other phone numbers starting with 08 have allowed businesses or helplines to take calls and divert them to call centres in different parts of the UK, or even internationally.

However, the charging structure can be complicated - with costs often overestimated by consumers, according to Mr Sivak.

For example, some calls that start with 087 include a call set-up fee, whereas some starting with 084 do not. Meanwhile, some 0845 and 0870 numbers are included in packages - making them free at certain times of day - whereas 0844 or 0871 numbers are generally not included.

The complexity has led to pressure - from the regulator, the public and MPs - on key organisations to switch their numbers to one with a slightly cheaper 03 prefix, mainly because these are free in call packages.

HM Revenue and Customs is planning to move all its helplines, such as the self-assessment tax line, to 03 numbers by the end of the summer.

One pressure group has also been running a campaign, highlighting alternative geographic numbers to those fed up with calling 08 numbers.

Charges split

The key to these chargeable 08 numbers or premium rate 09 numbers is that some of the fee goes to the telephone company and some to the business that is providing the service.

Telephone keypad The changes aim to make it clearer where the cost of the call goes

This helps pay for the cost of the service, such as bus or train timetables, but it also means a profit can be made from these calls.

Some 93% of people asked in a survey by market research company Consumer Intelligence said they thought it was unfair that companies could make money from such calls.

Under Ofcom's proposals, the charges will be split into two sections so consumers know what they are paying and where the money is going.

Callers will be told: "This call will cost x pence per minute, plus your standard access charge."

The access charge is a fixed fee that will go to the telephone company. The service charge, quoted in pence per minute, goes to the company being called.

Consultation on the plans ends on 28 May and the regulator hopes the new system will be in place by the start of 2015.

The Federation of Small Businesses wants the changes to be made efficiently, and in one go.

"If it is one good overhaul, we would welcome that, but it never seems to be that way. It may be another five years, or it could be 10 years, but change keeps happening," said Mike Cherry, the FSB's national policy chairman.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for mobile operator O2 said: "Currently, even though we levy retail charges for calls to 0800 numbers, O2 customers can call many of these numbers for free. These include Childline, Crimestoppers and 0800 Reverse.

"In the future, Ofcom proposes that service providers make adequate payments to mobile operators to cover the cost of originating calls to 080 numbers. We support this approach. There are costs associated with delivering mobile phone calls to 0800 services and these need to be recovered, somehow."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Yes calls from mobiles to 0800 numbers used to be free Ofcom allowed charging to crack the nut of people phoning an 0800 number to redirect their call through a different provider and the network carrying the traffic got all the cost and no payment. A scheme that cracked the egg from the golden goose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    A couple of simple rules to make the cost clear for customers:

    1) the phone number and cost per minute should be displayed in the same sized font on printed and electronic media.
    2) "Calls will be charged at ..." announcements should not be issued as fast as the human voice can speak on audio media.

    Stop trying to rip us off by bamboozlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Shame they cant expend the energy used on this exercise in preventing and stopping junk phone calls the TPS is a waste of time.

    Ban ALL junk calls completely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    So, people are put off making calls via a system which is designed to confuse, and extract the greatest amount of money with no moral concerns for its' customers.
    Energy suppliers, banks, and others have been deliberately obfuscating tariffs and charges for years, what's new?

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    I am getting the feeling, that mobile operators keep the cost of calls higher than is justified by their actual costs, so they can subsidise all the capacity taken up over their networks by non-voice traffic, that is, all the stuff delivered to smartphones and their apps. Good know I pay more to make a call so somebody else can download some banality to a social network site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    A warning to all businesses using XLN telecom. Please check the calls you are charged for as you may get a surprise. NOT all mobile calls are inclusive in your bundle as I have just found out. Mobile numbers supplied by Lyca or Lebara telecoms are not considered as ordinary UK mobile numbers but premium numbers and are charged separately. I am contacting Offcom for this matter for clarification

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    I call any number I'm not sure of from work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Don't forget the rip off of the "call set up charge" or "connection fee" of 15p or so, simply for the privilege of dialing a number. Any number.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    You know, calls to 0800 numbers used to be free from mobiles, then in the mid 1990s OFTEL allowed changes by the mobile operators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    This article on phone number simplification seems to have added to the confusion with 03 number prefixes. The prefix for a NGN that is the same rate as 01 and 02 is 03 not 030.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    Prices of all calls to all numbers should be the same, remove the ambiguity then nobody can moan or profit.

    Even more importantly, fine those swines that ring other people without their permission, ie PPI/Ambulance Chasers, they should be fined £10 every time they ring a number without express prior consent.

    That would make telephony a better place

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Legal requirement for organisations to give an 01/02/03 number & no with-holding of numbers.
    0500/0800/0808 numbers to be no cost to the consumer from all telcos including Virgin/Mobile networks.
    No change to 09 premiun numbers as user has a choice.
    07 numbers should only be UK mobile. Specialist services under 070 etc should be on the 04 or 06 prefix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    I have a contract for my mobile with XLN telecom for a bundle of 10hours per month and they want to charge me for some mobile numbers that belong to lyca or lebara. How on earth will I be able to distinguish to whom the numbers belong to? For me all numbers starting with 07 followed by any digit (1-9) is an ordinary UK mobile number and should be included in my 600 minutes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    It's been said enough times here already. Scrap all but 0800 numbers and STD codes. The excuses for all other numbers are pathetic and the real reason is to make money for the receiver of the call.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    Re: 254 "Businesses taking money from calls should be stopped." -- Directory enquiries, dial-up internet, conference calling, pre-recorded information lines all put out of business in a stroke? I think not. Those will of course continue. It is customer service and fault lines that should not use 084/087 numbers - and they won't once the provisions of the Bill on Consumer Rights comes into force.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Ofcom have got this wrong.
    There is no public confusion
    The public know when they are being ripped off.
    Bit late for them to realise that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Businesses taking money from calls should be stopped. Why should I pay to call a support line to tell my internet provider that the internet they're supposed to provide is down?

    Or pay to call DVLC to ask where my tax disc is? Or the utility companies who billed the wrong amount. Or the bank that closed my wife's account by mistake, or the latest new "personal banker" that didn't read the file?

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    246. J

    Many Thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Re: 156 "And I thought 0845 was "lo-call"!" -- 0845 hasn't been "lo-call" since 2004. That's when BT removed the price differential between local and national 01 and 02 calls and then moved most customers onto inclusive packages where calls to all 01 and 02 numbers of up to 60 minutes per call attract no further incremental charges above the monthly call package fee: "lo-call" no longer exists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    It won't work for me until the UK government takes telephone services off the phone operators in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. We are tied to the UK's numbering plan, but the fact we aren't under OfCom's purview means we will keep getting ripped off.

    Contrariwise, all people need to do to avoid OfCom guidelines is re-register offshore.


Page 1 of 14


More Business stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.