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Non-geographic telephone rates - 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871 etc (and other telephone issues)

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Introduction

Telephone handset: (c) freeimages.co.uk

See also these pages

See also

National Audit Office (NAO) logo (Crown copyright) - our thanks to NAO

Amyas Morse, head of the Government's National Audit Office (NAO), 18 July 2013
commenting on their report [see link above; our thanks to the NAO] :

"Callers [to government numbers] do not receive a better service from higher rate numbers and many callers are put off calling government phone numbers altogether.  The most vulnerable callers, such as low-income households, face some of the highest charges.  Each department needs to take a clear approach to using higher rate numbers and protecting vulnerable callers, and improve their understanding of how to get the best value from telephone services for both callers and taxpayers."

Cautionary notes

What telephone numbers are we dealing with ?

1.  When we started this page (in 2008) we only dealt 0870 and 0871 numbers.

2.  Since then, we've widened the scope of the page to include other (similar) 'revenue-sharing' 08 code non-geographic numbers - especially 0844 and 0845, and two new codes: 0872 and 0873.

Much of what we've said on this page about 0870 and 0871 numbers applies to these other numbers too.  So, where we refer to 0870/0871, in many cases we've added an asterisk * - indicating that we're also referring to similar numbers - such as 0844 and 0845.

The same issue applies to the SayNoTo0870.com   website.  They started out dealing only with 0870 (hence their name); then they too added similar codes one-by-one.

3.  Recently, we've added some other issues to do with telephone charges - eg 18185.

On this page, generally we don't deal with :

Premium rate numbers :

Introduction to 0870 and 0871* telephone rates

We concede that there are more glamorous titles for a page than: "0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871 non-geographic telephone rates".  However, over the years, it's one consumer issue that we've taken a special interest in.  Perhaps we should get out more.

Pile of one-pound coins

We haven't dealt with the topic on the CharityBags website until now - it's only on the fringe of our aims.  However, we've included it on the website because :

There's no reasonable justification for using the 0870/0871* (and similar) codes, bearing in mind the cheaper alternatives available, including :

OK, so what's it all about ?

Money

We'd all like to get our landline phone calls for free (as they are with 0800 and 0808 freephone numbers).

But most people accept you've got to pay for most calls - otherwise BT etc couldn't provide the network - the cables, telephone exchanges, street cabinets and maintenance.  You can call this the 'network charge'.

Traditionally this was done by using 'geographic' phone codes (currently 01 and 02 numbers within the UK).  Nowadays, there's two ways of paying this network charge :

What's unfair about 0870 and 0871* numbers is that the calls include a second (hidden) charge, as follows :

  1. There's the network charge, paid to BT etc (which is fair enough).  But there's also . . .
  2. A 'revenue-sharing component' - this is cunning jargon meaning a hidden charge, which BT etc pass on to the organisation you're ringing, as revenue - it's called a 'micro-payment'.

xStatistics:This is ingenious but sneaky.  For example, consider a 10-minute call to an 0871 telephone number - it costs you around £1.  What does your phone company (eg BT) do with this money? :

  1. They keep around 50p (the network charge).
  2. They pass on the remaining 50p (ie 5p per minute) to the organisation you're calling (known as the 'called party').  In other words, they 'share the revenue'.  See below for details of this.

Here's another way of understanding this :

Ask yourself - How would you feel if the following situation happened to you? :
You ring a geographic (01 or 02) number - say your bank.  You know you're paying the normal telephone 'network charge' for the call (to BT etc).
Imagine the person you're ringing refuses to talk to you, unless :

Image of credit cards (courtesy of freeimages.co.uk)

  1. You first give them your credit card details, and
  2. You agree to let them take money from your credit card at the end of the call - which would be calculated by multiplying the number of minutes you would be on the phone to them, by 5 pence.  For example, if it's 10 minutes they'll charge you (10 x 5) = 50p.

Most people would be shocked and offended by this.

. . .  But this is what happens (in effect) when you ring any 0871* number.  The only differences are :

This system can be tolerated with premium rate (09) numbers (dating lines, sex lines, horoscopes etc) - because they're providing a value-added service to you, and often it's non-essential 'entertainment'.

But with most 0871* numbers, they're used for routine, essential customer service - such as purchasing, querying or complaining.  Why should these calls give revenue to the organisation you're ringing?

The government watchdog PhonepayPlus   neatly described 0871 numbers thus :

"Calls to 0871 numbers involve a form of micro-payment whereby revenue can be shared between the company you are calling and the third party that's providing the telecoms service"  [PhonepayPlus website at November 2009]

Who's criticising 0870 and 0871* rates ?

Many organisations, websites and individuals - including :

The Daily Mail ran a campaign against 0870-type numbers and referred to the rates as a 'scam'.  We too, feel it's reasonable to call the rates a scam.  However, if you read this page, visit the links we've cited, and still feel uncomfortable about using the word 'scam' to describe the rates, that's fine by us.  But we hope you'll agree the rates are unfair and potentially misleading.

Details of 0870 and 0871* telephone rates

Many people don't realise what the charging regime is with 0870 and 0871 numbers.  Here's a quick guide to them, comparing them with ordinary 01 and 02 (=geographic) numbers :

Coins: (c) www.freeimages.co.uk

1xStatistics:Example:  Consider a 10-minute landline phone call at peak-time ('national'-distance) as at Spring 2013 :

1xStatistics:We understand that the annual cost to consumers in the UK of calling 0870 and 0871* numbers (and similar codes) is now over £1,000 million.  However, if the organisations concerned offered normal (geographic) numbers instead, the cost to consumers would be substantially less.

It's not just consumers who are losing out.  UK charities (and other not-for-profit organisations such as NHS hospitals) are losing £ millions annually because of having to pay over-the-odds when dialing 0870/0871* numbers (eg when phoning commercial suppliers).

Companies selling the telephone numbers

Search Google for companies selling 0870 or 0871 numbers, and you find revealing marketing blurb telling you how to use these numbers to make money from the revenue-sharing - in a similar way to premium rate (090 prefix) numbers.

Examples from 'UK2Numbers' website   (at November 2009) :

1xStatistics:"About 0871 Numbers

[A] UK2Numbers 0871 number will provide your business with an attractive additional source of income.  The money we pay you for your 0871 calls will greatly benefit your business, whether you are a sole trader or large enterprise.

. . .  generating a significant revenue stream for your company.  Organisations taking on average 2000+ calls per day can expect rebate payments often exceeding £10,000 per month."

2xStatistics:"Revenue from 0871 numbers

1. Our 0871 numbers are guaranteed to give you more income than any other telecom provider can offer.

2. You will earn from 4 and up to 7 pence per minute for every incoming call you receive during the peak hours (8am-6pm Monday to Friday). We also pay 4 to 7p for every off peak call you receive."

0870 and 0871* - why are people misled ?

People are misled for a variety of reasons, including the following :

Organisations with 0870 or 0871* numbers

Old red telephone box: (c) www.freefoto.com

Do the organisations know they're charging you extra ?

We've found that staff in a number of organisations with these numbers are genuinely unaware that your calls to them cost more than normal 01 or 02 numbers.  In some cases they had been given misleading information by the people selling them the 0870/0871* phone number.

As 'mystery shoppers' we've asked organisations with 0870/0871* numbers what the rates are.  In most cases they gave us incorrect information.  To their credit, we're confident that most of them weren't trying to mislead us deliberately.

Example:  We contacted a leading health charity (which deals with eye diseases) about their 0870 numbers.  This was because they'd informed members (including one of us) in their newsletter that the calls were at 'normal' [01 and 02] rates.  We explained that this was incorrect.  They checked out our assertions - and they were shocked to find they'd been misled by the company which sold them the 0870 numbers.  They changed their numbers to geographic ones (01 code), and amended all their publications accordingly.

Use of 0870 and 0871* numbers by government

Most of the organisations with 0870/0871* numbers are in the private sector - such as mail-order companies.

However, a few government departments do use them - especially arm's-length agencies such as the DVLA (Swansea) and the Driving Standards Agency (DSA). 

There's been much criticism of this - even by the government's own telephone regulator, Ofcom.  Also see the scathing report (2013) by the National Audit Office (NAO) - details above.

Example:  Around 2006, the government was providing retired civil servants with an 0870 pensions helpline.  A number of people were being paid incorrect pensions by the government - and some of them queried why they had to ring an expensive 0870 number to sort out a problem caused by government.  They were told that the helpline had been sub-contracted to a private company.  The company was keeping the 0870 revenue (around £300,000).  Apparently, the government hadn't known about this revenue.  As a result, the embarrassed government department changed the system and (as far as we remember) the company agreed to donate all the money to charity.

Even some NHS doctors' surgeries and Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs) are using 0870 or 0871* codes.  We understand this is illegal - because they're not allowed to charge for their core services.  Yet they make revenue out of these phone numbers (directly or indirectly).  It's time somebody pursued this - eg via Ofcom, PhonepayPlus, the health service ombudsman or even the courts.

Switching from 0870 to 0871* - more bad news

Since 2007, the telephone regulator Ofcom has been taking steps to reduce the problem of 0870 numbers. So these numbers are now less profitable.  Some organisations with 0870 codes have responded to this by switching to 0871 instead.

A notorious example of this is 'Traveline' - the government-backed telephone helpline for bus travellers.  See the article on the Daily Mail website headed: 'How BT helps business firms dodge premium line crackdown'  

The good news - solutions Plus icon

Finding cheaper, alternative numbers

Many organisations with 0870/0871* numbers also have cheaper alternative numbers, but they tend to keep quiet about them.

Fortunately, the Say No To 0870   website includes an invaluable, ever-growing, free database of alternative, cheaper (and even free) telephone numbers for many of the organisations which use 0870/0871 (and 0844/0845) numbers.
(Note: We have no connection with this website.)

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, if you write to a government department which has 0870/0871 (or 0845) numbers, you can insist they give you details of any cheaper, alternative numbers such as geographic ones (01 and 02 codes).

Organisations switching to cheaper rates

Some organisations which used 0870 or 0871* numbers have responded to public concern and changed their numbers to cheaper tariffs, such as :

Examples :

03

The new '03' telephone rate - an ideal tariff

In early 2007 the phone regulator Ofcom   launched the '03' rate.  This avoids the tariff problems of 0870 and 0871* (and 0845).

'03' is a lovely tariff - it's non-geographic, but only charged at geographic (01/02) rates.  Unfortunately, only a few organisations have switched to it so far - but things are improving.  With 03 numbers, phone companies are required by law to charge only geographic rate (or less).

Other ways of reducing your phone bill

Using 'indirect access codes' to save money (eg using 18185)
- how to reduce the cost of your phone calls by up to 99%

18185

If you key in an 'indirect access code' before dialling certain types of phone numbers on your landline, you can save money.  Example: 18185 - see www.18185.co.uk    The best savings are achieved if you're a BT customer.  We've been using 18185 for several years - after we saw it recommended by Martin Lewis's "MSE" MoneySavingExpert   website.  Example (at April 2013) :

The saving above assumes :

By the way, 18185 is operated by a Swiss company called Finarea SA. 
You pay by direct debit.  There's no subscription cost and no commitment. 
A nice feature of 18185 is that you get an (automated) announcement of the cost of the call (in pence per minute) before the call is connected (the 'tariff message').  Finarea also operate as '1899' and '18866'.

How does it work?  18185 is known as an indirect access code.  When you key in the number, the call bypasses your usual telephone company (eg BT) and routes the call via the 'independent access provider' (also known as the 'override provider') - a company like 18185.  So, you pay 18185 for the call (not BT).  18185 is one of several companies providing this type of service.

What if you're not with BT? - using 18185's '0808-' number

BT is required by law to allow use of indirect access codes.  However (alas) other telecoms companies are not subject to this requirement - and many of them (eg TalkTalk) block indirect access.  To some extent you can get round this - because some indirect access companies provide you with a freephone number as an alternative.

For instance, if you're with TalkTalk and you want to use 18185, you dial the freephone number 0808 1 703 703, followed by the number you're wanting to call.  Examples (at mid-2013) :

Saving money - the '0844Calls' website

The 18185 company (Finarea SA) also operate www.0844Calls.co.uk  
This works in a different way to 18185.  You don't have to sign up/register (and set up a direct debit).  Instead, you just prefix the number you want to call with an appropriate 0844 number obtained from their website.  The call charge appears on your main bill (BT or whoever).  Example :

Like 18185, '0844Calls' provide a tariff message :
"Before each call, the system will inform you of the call charges per minute for the destination you are calling.  This unique tariff message is free of charge, therefore if you hang up before your call is connected, you will not be charged a penny."

Phoning the police on 101 - only 15p per call

Black and white chequer pattern [249x107]

This number was introduced in 2011.  It's for non-emergencies.  The government secured a good deal with the phone companies so that a call to 101 is at a fixed rate of just 15 pence (regardless of the duration of the call).

A second advantage of 101 is that it's a short number, easy to remember - and it applies to all police forces.  The new NHS number (111) mimics it.

Line rental saver - save 25% +

Many phone companies now offer a 'line rental saver' option.  With this, you pay your line rental 12 months in advance (usually as a card payment).  For most people this is a good deal.  You save over 25% compared with paying the rental monthly.  So, if you continue to pay monthly, in effect you're being charged interest at around 50% APR.

0845 phone numbers

0845 numbers are now the most common type of 'non-geographic' number.  They're often referred to as 'local rate' or 'low-call'.  In most cases this is misleading.  Indeed the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have upheld complaints about this (see adjudications on the ASA's website).

0845 numbers are widely used by companies - and to some extent by government - eg DWP including Jobcentres.  See the scathing 2013 report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on the use of 0845 numbers by government - details above.

The government's telephone watchdog (Ofcom) recommends that organisations should avoid using 0845 (or similar) numbers - they should use geographic numbers (=01 or 02) or 03 numbers instead.

Beware - with 0845 numbers, part of the call revenue is paid to the party you're calling (as a micro-payment, per minute) - just like with '09' code premium rate sex lines.

BT (praise):  As at April 2013, if you make an 0845 call on a weekday 7am to 7pm (and you don't have a 'BT Anytime' inclusive call plan), BT charge you only 2p per minute.  This is 1/4 of their 8ppm charge for calls to geographic (01/02) numbers.  We don't know of any other phone company that does this.  BT deserve praise for this.

Yellow warning triangle

TalkTalk generally model their charges on BT's tariffs.  However, beware - 0845 is an exception - TalkTalk charge 0845 calls at the same rate as geographic numbers - around 8p per minute.
Note:  You can get round this by using 18185 - by dialling their '0808 1 703 703' number prefix (see section below).  Then an 0845 call costs you only 3p per minute.  With a 10-minute call, this will save you 60 pence (=5p x 10 minutes and a lower call-setup charge).

Many landline telephone companies don't include 0845 numbers in their inclusive call plans (see section above).  Commendable exceptions are BT, Plusnet and TalkTalk.

If geographic numbers (ie 01 and 02) are cheaper than 0845 with your phone company, and you're wanting to ring an organisation which advertises an 0845 number, often you can find a geographic number for them (to save you money).  You can do this using the 'Say No To 0870' website.  Also, many organisations provide geographic numbers in their small print - eg in case you're ringing from abroad.

Inclusive call plans (landline contracts) - are 0845 and 0870 calls included ?

As at June 2013, all landline 'inclusive call plans' include calls to geographic numbers (ie numbers beginning 01 or, 02) and 03 numbers.

However, beware - different phone companies have different rules regarding 0845 and 0870 numbers.

The good news:  With BT's 'inclusive call plans', both 0845 and 0870 calls are included. 
Plusnet (a BT subsidiary) and TalkTalk do the same.

Yellow warning triangle

The bad news:  Other phone companies are less generous.  Examples :

We've seen Primus praised on some price comparison websites.  We feel this is misleading - they're not comparing like-with-like (a level playing field).  Yes, the Primus monthly line rental/inclusive call packages appear cheaper than competitors.  However, if you make a few 0845 and/or 0870 calls, the cost of these cancels out any savings compared with BT etc.

Maybe Ofcom should produce a legally-binding definition of inclusive calls - for example use BT's definition (=01, 02, 03, 0845 and 0870).  Then there would be a level playing field - to allow fair comparisons.

Beware - As far as we know, no inclusive calls package includes any of the following numbers: 0871, 0872, 0873; 0843, 0844; 070, 118xxx, 09.

Also, bear in mind that 0845 numbers in inclusive call plans only include voice calls.  So, 0845 numbers used to access the Internet via dialup networking (DUN) aren't normally included.

BT 'Charge Advice'

If you're with BT, this is a little-known but useful free, optional facility.  With all chargeable calls, you'll get an automated call back immediately afterwards - telling you the duration of your last call (in minutes and seconds).

Cautionary note:  Charge Advice also purports to tell you the cost of the last call.
However, beware - BT acknowledge that this 'cost' information is unreliable - and it's best ignored.

For more on this (and other features), see for example: BT 'star service' codes  
Beware - some BT 'star' codes incur a charge (they're not free).

Some gotchas

070 telephone numbers - beware

Numbers beginning with 070 are a "nasty" category.  When you ring them from a landline, they cost between around 15p and 60p per minute (depending on the exact number).  They're a peculiar and little-known category.  They include "personal" numbers, "follow-me" numbers, calls made to patients in NHS hospitals and classified advertisements.  Many scams have used 070 numbers.

See :

www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/1949957/scammers-exploit-uk-070-phone  

http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/numbering/guidance-tele-no/070-guidance  

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/working_lunch/6527127.stm  

Avoid using directory enquiries (= '118' numbers at premium rate)

Years ago, the only provider of directory enquiries was BT.  It used the number 192 - and the calls to it were free.

However, these days there are many competing ' directory enquiries' companies.  All their numbers begin with "118" - and they can cost over £1 per minute.  You're better off getting numbers via the Internet (for free) - for example :

'BT Basic' service - a curate's egg

At April 2013, BT's website describes it thus :

"BT Basic is a simple, low-cost telephone service that's easy to understand and helps you keep in touch, even if money is a bit tight.  If you're on a low income, BT Basic lets you make and receive calls – and helps you manage how much you spend."

Warning triangle

The service is only available to people on certain means-tested benefits (eg Income Support).  It may suit some people, but beware - there are serious disadvantages.  Many people using this service will end up paying far more than with a standard BT call plan (such as Evenings and Weekends).  So, rather than helping vulnerable/disadvantaged people, this service is likely to add to their financial problems.

With BT Basic :

Other gotchas

1. Don't exceed the time limit for free calls with inclusive call packages - typically 60 minutes.

So, get in the habit of setting a timer/alarm at the start of a long call, and redial after (say) 50 minutes.

2. Around 2007 most landline phone companies changed their definition of evenings from 6pm start to 7pm start.  Some people haven't realised this yet.  So they're delaying making calls until just after 6pm - in the belief that it's cheap rate.

3. Bank holidays and public holidays:  Beware - most phone companies charge you at the weekday (=peak) rate for calls on these days.

4. With some unsolicited marketing calls, you get a recorded message inviting you to press a key: (a) to ring them back and/or (b) to be deleted from their list.  Rumour has it that pressing the suggested key may ring them back on a premium rate number at your expense.

Using mobiles :

 


Ethical note:  On this page we praise some deals - eg 18185.co.uk.  We do this because they're good deals.  Rest assured, we've no vested interest - we get no commission or whatever.  It's the same principle as reviews in Which? magazine.

Certain (c) images (eg red telephone box) from: www.freefoto.com