Simon Read: Here's a simple system to help you hang up on those costly 'free' calls

 

Do you ever use freephone numbers? They're a great way for companies to allow customers to contact them without having to pay a packet for the privilege. Except if you use a mobile phone – as most of us do – you'll have been charged a bundle every time you use a freephone number.

In other words, freephone numbers aren't free at all. Unless you call from a BT landline, that is. Confused? That's just the start of it. There is a bewildering array of what are known as non-geographic numbers, all seemingly designed to trick you into paying a hefty premium when you make a call.

But that's set to change. 0800 phone numbers are to be made free from all phones, while the telecoms watchdog plans to force firms to tell customers exactly how much they will be charged when they use 0845 and other non-geographic numbers.

Calls to numbers starting 08, 09 and 118 will be standardised with a single "access charge" plus a service charge set by the business that is being called. The numbers are used widely by companies such as banks, energy providers, entertainment services and directory enquiry firms.

The reason is simple: they are revenue-sharing lines. That means the company you call and phone operator make a decent profit every time you use one of the numbers. In other words, everyone's making money except the mug making the call.

Shockingly, even some doctors' surgeries and health centres are still making their patients call expensive 0844 numbers – which can cost 41p a minute – even though they were effectively banned from using them by Government guidelines published more than two years ago.

The Department of Health ruled in 2011 that patients should not have to pay more than a standard geographic charge to call their doctor. But it emerged this week that many GP surgeries are continuing to use the revenue-raising numbers, which leave patients racking up large bills when trying to get treatment or advice.

That's obviously one major problem with which the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has got to get to grips.

In the meantime, it is trying to force companies to tell customers exactly how much the service charge for premium lines is. Under this rule, customers will have to be told what the calls fee is when they switch to a new bank or energy supplier.

On the face of it, that's great news – slightly tempered by the fact Ofcom has given companies at least 18 months to comply. That leaves them a year and a half more to rake in excess hidden profits from us just because we may need to, on occasion, call the company we're using.

And let's not forget that they are almost certainly already making a fat profit from supplying banking services or gas or whatever.

Which brings me to the other reason why the changes may not help us: they won't stop phone firms increasing the prices of these calls. It's estimated that some premium rate numbers have gone up by more than 400 per cent over the last two years.

So I'd urge anyone calling an expensive company line to find a cheaper way to get in touch. For instance, the website www.saynoto0870.com lists cheaper alternatives for 0500, 0800, 0808, 0842, 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers.

Then I'd like the regulator to adopt a new way of charging for these premium numbers. I reckon there is a simple solution which could clear up charges confusion for good.

It's this: make all 08 numbers relate to their cost. So while all 0800 numbers would be free – from any phone – 0801 numbers should be 1p a minute. That would make 0802 numbers 2p a minute, and so on. The popular 0845 numbers would clearly be charged at a rip-off 45p a minute while 0870 would be an even greater example of blatant profiteering.

You could take it further to premium rate 09 numbers, which are used by the likes of entertainment chat lines and TV reality shows. If 0900 numbers were set at £1 a minute, then 0901 would be £1.01 and so on.

This proposed change may not be easy to introduce but surely 18 months is time enough to switch to a more sensible, consumer-friendly system of numbers?

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

    Market Risk & Control Manager

    Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

    SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

    £320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

    Head of Audit

    To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam