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Say no to 0845 and 0870 numbers: how to call them for free

Emma Lunn
by Lovemoney Staff Emma Lunn on 15 December 2013  |  Comments 42 comments

These numbers can cost a fortune, so here are some ways to avoid paying for them.

Say no to 0845 and 0870 numbers: how to call them for free

0870 and 0845 numbers have long been a controversial topic. They’re often used for banks’ customer service lines as well as broadband technical support and complaints. As a result we're often charged extra to complain about a product or service that doesn’t work. The irony...

These calls don’t come cheap either. Here's how you can cut the cost of them.

Move to a package that offers them for free

Many phone providers now offer free calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers. BT was the first to make the move in January 2009 and others swiftly followed. Check what's included in your home phone package and when you can call them, i.e. is it just evenings or weekends or all the time?

Find a free number

The website provides a list of alternative 01/02/03 numbers that can be dialled instead of an 0845 or 0870 number. However, it's not foolproof and sadly there are some scammers posting fake phone numbers on there. Tread with a bit of caution.

You could also look on a company's website for numbers that are meant for people to use if they're calling from overseas. Believe it or not, some companies now block these numbers if you're calling them from a UK landline or mobile. Alternatively, you could call a company's sales line, if it's free (and let's face it, they generally are as they want our business), and ask to be transferred at their expense.

You could also use an override provider - this is a phone company that undercuts your regular phone supplier. For example, 18185 charges 1p/min plus 5p connection charge to Virgin Media customers while Virgin charges 8.68p/min with a 12.24p connection charge. You just sign up and then dial a prefix number before the phone number you are calling.

Even if you just buy your line rental from BT but don't have a phone contract with them, you should be able to route your calls via them by dialling 1280 before the phone number. This may not work with all phone providers and the calls will only be free at weekends, as you're essentially piggybacking your call onto BT's most basic package, which just offers free calls at weekends. But it's worth a try.

What about 0871 and 0844?

Calls to 0871 and 0844 numbers are not included in any packages and these numbers are often used by GPs and the NHS – something that has created something of an outrage. Call charges start at 5p a minute, but depend on who your home phone or mobile contract is with.

Want to call from a mobile? Have a read of How to call 0800, 0808 and 0870 numbers for free from your mobile

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

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Comments (42)

  • calista969
    Love rating 2
    calista969 said

    You are as bad as the finance, utilities and telecoms sector you are supposedly write articles about - I had enough of British Call Centres and the way they deal with customers - you are a disgrace and may be part of the same scam...

    Report on 03 January 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Ian001
    Love rating 0
    Ian001 said

    This article is now hopelessly out of date, as are many of the comments. Much has happened in the last few months and a lot more will happen in the next year or so.

    Calls to 084, 087 and 09 numbers incur a Service Charge to the benefit of the called party. The caller's telephone provider pays the non-geographic provider a sum of money to cover their costs in handling the call. Callers are effectively subsidising running costs that would otherwise be incurred by the called party. Once these costs have been covered, anything left over may be paid out to the called party under a revenue share agreement.

    The Service Charge is around 2p/min on 0845 numbers. It varies from 1p to 7p/min on 0843 and 0844 numbers depending on the exact number called and varies from 7p to 13p/min on 0871, 0872 and 0873 numbers depending on the exact number called. The Service Charge and revenue sharing has been suspended on 0870 numbers since August 2009 but will be restored in June 2015. Where the Service Charge is under around 2p or 3p/min, the called party is unlikely to receive revenue share payments as the Service Charge only just covers the running costs of the non-geographic number. On 090, 091 and 098 numbers, the Service Charge can be as high as £1.50/min, again depending on the exact number called. In June 2015, the top level Service Charge incurred on calls to 09 numbers will be increased to £3/min.

    At present, the overall call price varies depending on which provider is used to make the call as well as depending on exactly which number is called. BT's call prices for 084, 087 and 09 numbers are currently capped by the "NTS Retail Condition" such that BT is not allowed to make profit on call origination. Almost all of what callers pay BT for these calls is therefore Service Charge to the benefit of the called party and their supplier. As other call provider's prices are unregulated, this makes BT's call prices non-typical in the marketplace.

    Additionally, BT's call prices for other numbers have been unregulated for more than a decade. Most callers no longer pay individually for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, they simply have these within an inclusive allowance or bundle. It should be made clear that 0845 numbers haven't been "local rate" for more than a decade. Likewise, 0870 call prices parted company with "national rate" a long time ago.

    At the moment, the Service Charge incurred on 084, 087 and 09 calls is hidden within the overall advertised call price. Ofcom want transparency here. Users of these numbers will no longer be allowed to just state the BT call price and add "others may charge more". New Ofcom rules published in December 2013 mean that all users of 084, 087 and 09 numbers will be required to instead declare their Service Charge from 26 June 2015.

    At the same time, the "NTS Condition" will be lifted from BT and they will be allowed to add a markup to their 084, 087 and 09 call prices for the first time. Other call providers already add markup on these calls. Landline operators add anything from 1p to 7p/min and mobile providers add anything from 18p to 40p/min. Most call providers advertise only the total call price, with no indication as to how that money is divided up. Additionally, most mobile operators "simplify" their tariffs by charging all 084 and 087 calls at, say, 41p/min irrespective of the actual level of Service Charge incurred for each such number. Ofcom doesn't think this is fair to consumers.

    New Ofcom rules effective from 26 June 2015 ban call providers from setting a different level of markup depending on the number called. Instead, each provider will be required to set a single markup per tariff covering all 084, 087 and 09 numbers. Call providers will be required to declare this Access Charge in their price lists and it will always be set as a pence-per-minute rate. Call connection fees will be scrapped on all 084, 087 and 09 calls.

    The total call price will therefore be the sum of the Service Charge to the benefit of the called party and the Access Charge to the benefit of the caller's telephone provider. The caller will be aware the called party is financially benefitting from the call, and by how much, and it will also be clear just how much the caller's provider is adding on top. It will also be easy to compare call providers by comparing their advertised Access Charge.

    BT earns Service Charge when a caller on another network calls an 0845 number owned by BT. As BT owns most of the 0845 numbers currently in use, it is unusual for a BT caller to be calling an 0845 number registered with another non-geographic provider. BT is therefore able to offer their retail customers inclusive 0845 calls within some of their call plans. If this continues after June 2015, it will be clear this is BT giving their own customers a non-standard discount.

    Other call providers are generally unable to copy BT's 0845 retail call pricing. The Service Charge prevents calls to 084, 087 and 09 numbers from being included in call plan allowances. This is one of the reasons why Ofcom introduced 03 numbers in 2007 and promoted their use. It has taken a long time for that message to get through.

    On 13 December 2013, BIS published new regulations which come into force on 13 June 2014. These make it illegal for traders to use 084, 087 and 09 numbers for customer service lines from that date. Users of 084 and 087 numbers can move to the matching 034 or 037 number held in reserve by Ofcom since 2007 or to a new 01, 02, 033 or 080 number. Many businesses have already made the change and many others will be required to follow in the next few months.

    Although the new BIS regulations do not cover the financial sector, a number of banks and building societies have also made the change or have announced their intention to do so.

    On 26 December 2013, the Cabinet Office published guidance to government departments and public services. This requires 03 numbers be selected as the default choice. It allows the retention of existing 084 and 087 numbers running in parallel with new 03 numbers. However, where dual numbering is used, the 03 number must be advertised as the primary number. Many government departments and public services have already changed to 03 numbers, including DVLA, HMRC, DWP and others. Some have moved to matching 034 or 037 numbers, others to new 030 numbers.

    Calls to 03 numbers always cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and mobiles. The called party is responsible for covering any additional costs incurred in running the non-geographic number.

    Wherever an 084 or 087 number is advertised, get into the habit of trying the matching 034 or 037 number. If it has already been activated, most callers will save money by calling it. If it hasn't been activated, search online for an alternative 01, 02 or 03 number.

    As more and more organisations move over to 03 numbers, the number of calls made to 084 and 087 numbers is rapidly declining. Callers should now be looking for the best value call plan with inclusive calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers. With the ongoing reduction in the mobile termination rate, already under 1p/min and falling to 0.5p/min in 2015, it won't be long before some landline providers also start offering inclusive calls to standard 07 mobile phone numbers.

    Calls to 080 numbers are free from landlines but mobile operators often charge up to 41p/min for these. Some 080 numbers are already free calls from mobile phones. These include various DWP claim lines, numbers for Crimestoppers, Childline and various other charities, as well as helplines beginning 0808 80 and some numbers beginning 0808 188. From 26 June 2015 calls to all 080 numbers will be free from all mobile phones. However, users of these numbers will pay higher usage fees from that date so that mobile operators can be compensated for carrying these calls at no cost to the caller.

    In April 2010, GP practice contracts in England and Wales were amended to ban them from using 084 telephone numbers. No new 084 numbers were supposed to start and existing users were given one year to change their number to one beginning 01, 02 or 03. All users of 084 and 087 numbers can migrate their number at any time and there is no fee for doing so. However they will then have to pay for the non-geographic features they have subscribed to and do so without the benefit of a subsidy from callers levied through the Service Charge.

    Report on 31 March 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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