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New customers call free – loyal ones forced to pay

Banks, insurers and energy providers are forcing their customers to use expensive phone lines to contact them. But new customers can call for free, a new report from Which? has revealed this week.

Some 27 out of 34 finance firms offer free 0800 phone calls to new customers– but just six of them offer the free numbers to existing customers.

The bulk of firms surveyed – such as Churchill, HSBC, NatWest and Scottish Power – make their customers use expensive 0844 or 0845 numbers.

The cost of using the various types of phone lines can be baffling with a typical 20-minute peak time call from a BT landline ranging from 50p for an 0845 number to more than £1 for an 0844 or 0870 number and more than £2 for an 0871 number.

If you have to call your bank, insurer or energy firm from your mobile, you'll be hit even harder. The calls can end up costing up to £8.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, called for all customers to be given access to free phone numbers, especially if they have to lodge a complaint.

"We want to see providers being fairer to their existing customers and being more transparent on their call charges so that people are clear what it will cost before they pick up their phone," he said.

Less than half the companies surveyed make charges clear on their websites. Those that do include Smile, Co-op Bank, British Gas, Npower, Santander and Barclays.