That'll be the phone bill

Don't listen to BT: its chargecard is expensive - and it's getting worse

So you thought that giving your children BT Chargecards when they went away to college or on their travels would be a cheap way of allowing them to keep in touch? After UK call charge increases last week, it will be cheaper in some cases to make a reverse-charge phone call than to use a chargecard, and almost certainly cheaper to give your offspring a pre- paid phone card. And the cheapest option remains simply to call them back.

From Thursday the cost of Chargecard calls made within the UK more than doubled to 20p a minute, after Oftel, the telecommunications regulator ruled that previous prices discouraged competition.

Millions of people now have BT Chargecards, and they have become particularly popular for parents to give to students who are about to go off to college. The cards allow callers to key in a code and have the cost of the call automatically debited to a home telephone account.

The marketing drive to students, backed up by television advertising and promotional literature, is one that universities are happy to co-operate with: phones that are cashless have obvious advantages in shared accommodation.

But parents should be warned. Chargecard calls from anywhere in the UK have a minimum charge of 9.5p, but now cost 20p a minute, whatever the time of the day or week. For a weekend call of 20 minutes, when UK rates are lower and when students are most likely to phone home, even a reverse- charge call, with its pounds 1.80 fixed charge, would be cheaper. And it is almost certainly cheaper to get your children to use their cash, or even supply them with pre-paid cards.

The cost of peace of mind, even before these price rises, was high, and it is not something that BT has been keen to advertise. How many parents know that, even before the price rise, calling by chargecard was significantly more expensive than calling your offspring back. Very few, judging by my own straw poll. The common assumption is, as one parent put it: "As it was being charged to our account, it was billed at the same rates." This conclusion is not surprising since BT has promoted the service as "Dialling direct with your BT Chargecard can save you money".

It can take some time to discover the true costs. For me, it was when my daughter, in Israel for a year before university, phoned to say that she had been told that she could not use her chargecard as her 15-minute call the day before had taken her over her weekly pounds 35 limit.

We had, it is true, been shocked by the last chargecard bill: the pounds 231 total for her calls home swiftly dispelled any idea that we would save money when our loquacious teenage daughter left. While she had not apparently spent much time on the phone, our suspicions had not been aroused. But this pounds 35 plus call demanded investigation. It was no mistake. That is when I discovered that, with rates of pounds 2.18 a minute from Israel on chargecard, I was paying more than twice as much as if we had called her straight back. I worked out our last phone bill would have been pounds 150 lighter had we done so. When I put this to BT I was told: "It's all clear on the list of charges."

It wasn't. The comparison given, with an operator-connected call, made a chargecard call look cheap.

But direct-dialled calls were not included in the table. The spring edition of Update, the BT promotional leaflet, proclaimed: "Dialling direct with your BT Chargecard can save you money." It was no wonder we had not realised the true cost.

Chargecards may not save money in hotels, either. One person in a Munich hotel discovered after making all calls on chargecard that he still got a pounds 50 bill from the hotel. While that is a reflection on hotel phone charging policies, rather than chargecard, it shows the hidden dangers in the scheme.

Clear information about charges is the responsibility of BT Chargecard. When we ran the company's freephone helpline to increase the weekly limit for our daughter because, as we explained, she was moving to Israel, it would have been nice to have had proper advice that included comparisons.

Though chargecard is convenient, and may have its place in an emergency, the cost of using it may well outweigh the advantages, particularly after the price increases for UK calls (international rates remain unchanged).

Previous complaints to BT about charge information being misleading were met with this response: "Our chargecard charges," said a BT spokesman, "are well publicised." It will be interesting to see whether over the next few weeks that is the case with the new, higher prices.

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
Sport
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea players celebrate Demba Ba's goal and Gus Poyet
sportLive coverage of today's final game between Chelsea and Sunderland
News
Brand said he
people
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Telesales & Sales Support Apprentice

    £221.25 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a well established Inter...

    Client Relationship Manager - SQL, Python

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Client Relationship Manager - SQL...

    **Financial Services Tax**

    £35000 - £50000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Take your chance to join the...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit