Phone chaos as numbers change

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The Independent Online

Telephone companies spent £20m on a long advertising campaign to prepare the nation for Saturday's big changes to telephone codes - but still one in three people dialled the wrong number.

Telephone companies spent £20m on a long advertising campaign to prepare the nation for Saturday's big changes to telephone codes - but still one in three people dialled the wrong number.

The Big Number Campaign, set up by a coalition of telephone companies, admitted that a third of all callers in London had not got the message. And there was no reason to suggest that their efforts had worked any better in other parts of the country.

When the Independent on Sunday dialled 100 yesterday to check the new codes the operator said: "Sorry. I honestly don't know anything about that. You have to ring a Freephone number." The man who answered there was also perplexed by the query, and promised to get an engineer to ring back within 24 hours.

Campaigners set up a website, distributed leaflets at railway stations and even rang millions of people to remind them of what was about to happen. Following the switch at 1am yesterday, anyone who called an old local number for London, Portsmouth, Southampton, Coventry, Cardiff and Northern Ireland heard a voice recording of the correct code.

A spokeswoman for the Big Number said: "One in three callers in London dialled the old numbers during the peak time on Saturday and went through to an announcement. Since then we think people have learnt very quickly and the levels have dropped."

A helpline on 0808 224 200 received 10,000 calls in the 12 hours after the local number changes came into force.

Under the new system, numbers for inner and outer London changed from 0171 and 0181 to 020 7 and 020 8 respectively. Portsmouth numbers changed to 023 92, Southampton to 023 80, Coventry to 024 76, Cardiff to 029 20 and Northern Ireland to 028 followed by local codes and numbers.

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