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0800 numbers and “free” call bundles – the true costs

By 15th June 2012February 15th, 2022No Comments



Posted by: Lee Freeman

Did you hear about the divorcee who, in a final act of spite before leaving the family home, dialled the speaking clock in New York and left the phone off the hook?

Of course, that was wilful malice, but I sometimes wonder if the catchpenny charges and bewildering tariffs of telecom providers are any less vindictive.

Now you may already know this, but if not prepare to be outraged: the majority of ‘free-call’ 0800 numbers are charged at up to 21p a minute to mobile phone users and are often excluded from any bundle of free minutes as well. On a sex chat-line such news would be unsurprising, but on a public service exchange it comes as a bit of a shock, especially when the punch-line is delivered in your quarterly phone bill.

Compounding the offence is the fact that you’ve probably spent most of those 0800 minutes listening to a disembodied voice taking you through a multiple choice menu and enduring looped tapes of light classics whilst waiting to be connected.

The lid on this particular can of worms has only just been lifted by Ofcom, who have announced plans to curb the practice of charging for 0800 calls, making them as free to mobile users as they are from landlines.

The concern for business is two-fold: firstly there’s the obvious one of clocking up unnecessary overheads on business to business calls, especially when dealing with complaints; and secondly there’s the public’s growing distrust of 0800 numbers and a disinclination to use them, with all that implies for mail order or service companies.

A final decision by Ofcom on the proposed new rules is expected to be made early next year. In the meantime, take my advice and don’t dial 0800 numbers from your mobile, and advise your customers to make landline calls to your own 0800 lines, if you provide them.

Whilst we’re on the subject, beware of package deals that are really a false economy when you look at the bottom line. By way of illustration a client of mine, a local cancer charity with ten shops in Herts and Essex, signed a deal with a telecom supplier for free calls to all 01,02 and 03 numbers at a cost of £5 per shop per month.

They soon discovered, however, that this did not include calls to mobiles, directory enquiries and non-geographic numbers, with the result that they were still paying £30 a month for ‘free’ calls plus a £5 premium on top! I recommended a switch to another telecom provider with a more competitive tariff, where even paying for all calls they made an overall saving of £800 a year on their phone bill.