Confused? Even Oftel has got a crossed line

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EVEN THE official advice is confusing: new phone numbers were introduced yesterday for 10 million people - so please note them down, and do nothing. Unless you're a business, in which case act immediately.

That was the suggestion of Oftel, the telecoms watchdog, for the cities affected - London, Belfast, Cardiff, Coventry, Portsmouth and Southampton.

The old phone numbers will still work until 22 April but meanwhile, businesses are trying to establish how quickly they will need to change their letterheads, auto-dial faxes and call-barring systems.

The man in the phonebox in the street, meanwhile, is probably just frantic. The new numbers will work now, but the potential for misdialling is huge because of the way the changes work. It is not just the prefix to numbers which has changed - seven-digit numbers will become eight-digit numbers.

For example, London's 0171 and 0181 numbers, created just five years ago, are now both 020 but you will need to add a "7" or an "8" to the number accordingly. So you can now call The Independent on 0171 293 2000 or on 020 7293 2000 - but if you call from an 0171 number and dial 7293 2000, you will not get through.

The Federation of Small Businesses, representing four million companies, is angry: "We estimate [the changes] will cost pounds 500 for someone working from home and pounds 2,000 for someone with a larger company. And if you think people here are confused, just imagine what it's like for those with customers abroad."

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) admitted yesterday it was pressure from its members which has led to the renumbering.

An Oftel spokesman said: "We would encourage the public not to start using the new numbers until next Easter."

Sue Arnold,

Review, page 4