We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk

Spend & Save

Free directory enquiries: will we ever make that call?

Kate Hughes asks if a new service can break our addiction to expensive calls

It is around five years since BT's 192 Directory Enquiry service was replaced by a bewildering array of 118 numbers, charging fees that some consumer groups have said are too high. In fact, as a nation we now fork out £298m a year to call premium-rate numbers for contact details.

According to a recent YouGov survey, some 40 per cent of us believe that once we do call, operators drag out conversations to boost costs, and almost half of us claim we have never been told that being connected to the number we request will cost us more.

But with the launch of a service offering a free search, the days of high-price telephone information services are said to be, well, numbered.

By calling 0800 100 100, we can avoid receiving a text message, paying as much as £1 a minute for the privilege of receiving the information, and the offer of being connected at an inflated cost – though we will have to listen to a 20-second advert before being given the number requested. Calls from a mobile will be charged at that network's standard tariff.

Steve Weller at price- comparison site uSwitch. com says: "This new service really shows that consumers are fed up of being ripped off by high charges."

Murray McPherson, director of 0800 100 100, said at the launch that it would be carried on all networks, "ending the days of overpriced information when of course this should be free".

He added: "Many Britons are banned from calling 118 numbers on their company landlines and mobiles because it is so costly. That can be incredibly frustrating at work, when you urgently need information."

But free directory enquiries are nothing new – online information has been around for some time, and in late 2006 the firm behind 118 118 launched a free directory service, 118 3733 – yet still we call the familiar numbers.

A study by market research firm Millward Brown found that the heavily marketed 118 118 was the most dialled number in the UK, taking 52 per cent of all 118 calls. But with a 69p-per-call flat-rate charge and a 19p-per-minute tariff, this is one of the priciest options out there.

"The new free service doesn't signal the demise of paid-for enquiries," says Mr Weller.

However, websites including www.118118.com and www.thephonebook.bt. com offer unlimited free enquiries, and for a small charge, www.192.com provides a directory service as well as access to the UK electoral roll.

If you are compelled to use the phone, calling BT on 118 500 costs 49p per minute on a landline, with a 29p connection charge. Punching 118 811 into your phone will set you back 40p from a landline.