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
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts
World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas
British supermodel and hitmaker join forces to launch a 'huge song'
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announce they are set to welcome second child in spring
I Am Bread could actually a challenging and nuanced title
The HiFX guide to international money transfers
Mark Dampier: Woodford’s young companies could be the stars of the future
Charges related to car parking rising and leading to serious money woes
Money Insider: Help to Buy must be boosted by building
Weekly Money: Round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 13-17 October
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 3 Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' on Antiques Roadshow by Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 4 Meet Thea, Norway's 12-year-old child bride
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'
iJobs Money & Business
£18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...
£60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....
£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...
£27000 - £32000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large charity ...
Day In a Page
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village