Friday, 1 March 2013

Beware of 0870

Originally published: 2010-05-01 on my old blog

I was shocked last month to get a mobile phone bill that was over £8. Yes, that may not sound much, but bear in mind that I have a calling plan with unlimited calls, texts and internet. So, after looking through the itemisation, it turns out that I spent £8 on a couple of calls to 0870 numbers.


Now, for a bit of background, there seem to be three types of "non-geographic" numbers:


  1. 0800 numbers, which are free from landlines but not from mobiles (more on that later),
  2. 0845 numbers, which are supposed to be charged the same as a national-rate call,
  3. and 0870 numbers which are just plain expensive, whether you use a landline or not.
None of these numbers are usually (there are a few exceptions) included in any free minutes or calling plans, whether you're using a mobile or a landline. That statement is my main bugbear and the reason for this post - why aren't they included in your free minutes?
Let's start with 0800 numbers, I have a vested interest in these numbers, since my wife runs one for her company (The Pass Lane). These numbers work by the recipient of the call paying for the cost of the call rather than the person making the call. These numbers should make it free for your customers to contact you, however with more and more people using mobiles, this isn't the case. The reason 0800 calls aren't free from mobiles is because the company doesn't necessarily want to pay the higher cost for you to call from a mobile. 0845 numbers are just supposed to be an easy to remember niceity, and 0870 numbers are expensive presumably because the company doesn't want you to phone them.
The mobile phone companies will allow you hundreds of free minutes, yet these 08xx numbers aren't included. You're likely to be paying around 40 pence for every minute you're on the phone to these numbers, and with most of them being call centres, a lot of that time will be spent on hold. There seems to be a slow movement towards 0300 numbers instead, which are included in your free minutes, but many companies have already invested in 08xx numbers and don't want to change all their literature, etc.
For 0800 numbers, if the company you're calling is prepared to pay for the cost of your call from a landline, and your mobile company is prepared to offer you free minutes to a landline, then surely that reduces the cost down to zero, and you (the person calling from a mobile) shouldn't have to pay anything??
One solution (to a problem that shouldn't exist), is Say No To 0870.com, which allows you to search for a company or number, and tries to return a geographic number for them, which is then much cheaper, or free to call. This is well worth doing, as a typical 10 minute phone call could cost you £4.
So, my questions to no-one in particular (ok, maybe Ofcom) are:
  1. Why bother with 0300 numbers at all? We could just change 0800 or 0845 numbers to do the same
  2. Why aren't 08xx numbers included in free minutes?
  3. Why are 0870 numbers so massively expensive? Who's pocketing the cash?