The Real Cost of Premium Rate Numbers

Why do large companies insist on alienating their customers by only providing 08 numbers that are not included on mobile phone tariffs?

Published: 2nd October 2013

Here at ALA we do not have premium rate contact numbers. Our customers have told us that it means a great deal to them to be able to contact us on a standard number rather than the dreaded premium rate number, particularly when using a mobile so that calling us doesn’t add unnecessary costs onto a normal call plan.

We are all well aware of the pitfalls of making premium rate calls. We’ve all been in the position of needing to call a company, for general information and advice or to make a complaint, and having only an 0844, 0845 or 0871 number to call. There is then no way to avoid the associated miseries- automated messages, recorded menu options and the inevitable, interminable hold messages – “Your call is important to us, please continue to hold”.

It is easy to see why our calls are important to these companies. These premium rate numbers are effectively a form of income, so the longer we spend on a call the more money these companies receive. For example a company that receives 3000 calls a day which last 10 minutes each (at a rebate rate of 2p per minute) would make an extra £219,000 a year! Without fail, calls to large companies will always begin with a message, taking you through various options, asking you to confirm numerous details – all for you to be asked to repeat when you speak to a real person. All of this pushes up the cost of calling these numbers and is in addition to the fact that you’re probably already a customer and already spending money with them.

Even supposedly free (0800) numbers can cost us money. According to Ofcom, the UK’s communication regulator, 94% of adults own a mobile phone, 15% of households are mobile-only whilst just 24.4million households have a landline telephone. This severely limits the access many people have to free calls, with 0800 numbers still being charged at a rate as high as 40p per minute from mobiles.

The problem with all of this is that people don’t generally know where they stand. With more than 6 mobile providers the charges each individual network imposes are not always the same and are rarely transparent. A lengthy search through the terms and conditions of your phone contract can be fairly time consuming just to make a call to an 08 number.

In an effort to begin to combat this, the Consumer Rights Directive 2013 states that “customers must not pay more than the basic rate” for calls. This does extend further than just landlines with the Ofcom making 0800 numbers free from mobiles.

03 numbers are also becoming more prevalent. Prior to 2007 numbers beginning with 03 were premium rate but were changed by Ofcom to “non geographic numbers”. This meant that calls to these numbers no longer cost any more than a national rate call to an 01 or 02 number. Most importantly they can be used within “inclusive minutes” packages on mobile phones. They also prevent companies taking a share of any revenue generated from calls to these numbers. Added to this, Google are now displaying these numbers on certain searches and for certain companies.

Despite these efforts, the problem still remains that consumers are unaware of the fact that 03 numbers are geographic numbers charged at standard rates, leaving people worried by the unknown cost each time they dial a number. This begs the question “what happened to customer service?” Transparency and accessibility are both important for people to not just use a company but more importantly trust a company that they have chosen to give their custom to.

Click here to read more: Guides ALA Connect.

Published: 2nd October 2013
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