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Beware the 0870 phone line rip-off

 

Martin Lewis

 

For those living in Britain, whenever you dial a number starting with 0870 you can be sure you're being ripped off. Technically known as 'non-geographic numbers', they were originally employed by companies to ensure that everyone paid the same rate for the call, irrespective of where in the UK they were calling from. (This was back in the days when BT users had to pay local and national call rates.)

But, in my opinion, 0870 numbers have become premium-rate lines in disguise, charging up to 8p a minute. Even if free calls are included in your landline or mobile phone package, it's almost certain these numbers won't be included. 0870 calls can be up to 25 times the cost of a normal call. On BT's basic package, for example, calling a landline during the day costs 3p a minute, while an 0870 number is 7.5p. And with Toucan Telecom, a normal 20-minute evening call costs 3p, but it's 78p to an 0870 number.

Untold charges

These numbers are still cheaper than many of the premium-rate lines, but in some ways they're a bigger rip off. Premium-rate numbers have to tell you how much your call will cost, so you know what you're paying when you dial - 0870 numbers don't.

Premium-rate numbers are also regulated by ICSTIS (the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services), so they can't keep you on hold unnecessarily, just to rack up your bill. There are no such rules for 0870 - you can easily sit on hold for 20 minutes and end up having to pay £1.60 for the privilege. It's here that the real problem lies.

 

Often the company you are calling gets a cut of the call costs - up to 2p a minute - so they've no vested interest in speaking to you (and if they're not paid a cut, they're usually given free hi-tech call-routing equipment instead).
   

 0870 numbers have becoming money-spinning operation for many phone operators


Making matters worse, these 0870 numbers are most often used for customer enquiry and complaint lines - the company will have a cheaper one for sales - so they end up making money from you even when you're complaining about them. This is quite simply anti-consumer, yet 0870 numbers are used everywhere, even by official public bodies.

Join the resistance

So what can you do? The good news is that you can fight back. There's a wonderful lobbyist website called
Saynoto0870.com, which lists alternative telephone numbers for the major companies and organisations that use 0870 numbers. These are often numbers for alternative departments that can put you through to the one you want, or numbers listed for those calling from abroad.

 

And if you can't find an alternative number, you can dial 0870 numbers using a cheaper override provider - you dial a prefix number to override your existing provider before dialling the 0870 number. You can find the cheapest providers for different times of day at Moneysavingexpert.com/ukcallchecker, which is updated daily.

Finally, I'm pleased to say that the regulator, Ofcom, is now making some welcome changes. In future, all national rate numbers must truly reflect the rate of national calls, and if you have calls provided free of charge in your landline or mobile deal, 0870s should be included by most mainstream providers.

 

This means the revenue-sharing element will disappear. In addition, 0871 numbers, which are similar to 0870, but with variable charges of up to 10p a minute, will come under the control of ICSTIS. However, these changes are still a year and a half away, so don't relax just yet.
 
My final worry is that many companies will simply switch to 0871 status, which can still be expensive and also allows revenue-sharing. But at least Ofcom's changes are a small step in the right direction.

 

With thanks to Interactive Investors where this piece first appeared

 

Please e-mail views about this piece to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

 

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