0845 and 0870 I don’t think so

Regular readers of my other blog Miss Inexperience will be au fait with the concept that I live on a boat. As a direct consequence of living on a boat my main phone is … yep you guessed it, a mobile.

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 10 21My mobile contract is with t-mobile UK (soon to be everything everywhere) which means that if I wanted to I could pay an extra £2.50 per month to get 30 minutes of “free” calls to 08 numbers or I can struggle on using saynoto0870.com to attempt to locate geographic numbers (01 or 02 numbers), other peoples land lines or swallowing the cost of ringing the euphemistically named “lo call” numbers only to spend quite a lot of money hanging around listening to poor quality music in order to talk to say … my insurance company (MCE insurance only list 0844 and 0871 numbers on their site, as do e bike) or fabulously my GP Surgery (the offender has now gone back to a geographical number presumably as a direct result of customer feedback).

Calling a non geographic number from a mobile costs, we all know that, what it is difficult to find out is how much it costs. No where on the t-mobile website is it actually listed, instead there is a page where you can type in your non-geographic number (070, 08, 09, 116 or 118) and a captcha and find out what it will cost you to call that number (if you happen to have a computer with internet access at the time). As an example here’s the main contact number for MCE insurance with the costs for ringing it from a t-mobile phone:

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 45 57

While I was playing with the form I decided to check an 0800 number, this is the one to call if you need to claim Job Seekers Allowance (which you can do for free from the job centre or a public call box if you can find such a thing and it’s clean enough for you to feel you can use it). It seems from this that T-Mobile have finally acquiesed and made 0800 numbers free, although I notice my current contract is excluded from this. I hope when I renew it they will waive the 7.4p per/minute charge or I might think about not renewing my contract after all.

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 57 51

Skippy as readers of his blog will know, is with O2 (poor O2 is all I can say to that), so for comparison I went looking for the equivalent tariffs on his network. This is what I came up with:

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As you can see there is no mention of 0845/0844 numbers on there, but I do find this format easier to understand (and considerably more useful) than t-mobile’s take on it. According to OfCom calls to 0843 and 0844 numbers which are used by businesses for sales, enquiry and customer service lines as well as some pay-as-you go internet access services should cost:

between 1p and 13p per minute for landline customers. Calls from mobile phones are typically
charged between 15p and 41p per minute, depending on the provider and the number called.

0845 numbers are slightly cheaper varying from 1p to 10.5p per minute from landlines to between 12p and 41p per minute from mobiles. While 0870 numbers vary massively even from landlines

Calls from some fixed networks cost no more than a geographic rate call (01 or 02, between 2p and 10p plus a call set-up fee in some cases) and may count towards any inclusive minutes in the same way. Calls from other fixed networks typically cost up to 10p per minute. From some mobile networks calls typically cost between 12p and 41p per minute.

Recently some other providers have also included calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers in call packages, making them free at certain times of the day.[1]

So, what is the advantage of having a non-geographic “lo call” number in the age of the mobile phone?
Anyone? No, I didn’t think so. In fact if you search the OfCom website for “0845 numbers” or “non-geographic numbers” you will find a lot of evidence that the general public are most unimpressed with them, so why are they hanging on when people don’t like them? Well, people don’t like automated call handling systems either but there doesn’t seem any likelihood that we’ll be getting rid of those in a hurry either. So, are non-geographic numbers really that much of a problem?

Well yes, actually they are. They are when you have an accident, and need to claim on your insurance and have to spend over half an hour on the phone to the insurance company (quite a large proportion of that on hold), or when you have to ring the RAC (which you’re inevitably going to be doing from a mobile). The extortionate charges for calling these numbers is ridiculous (yes, I know that the out of allowance call rate for geographic numbers (01/02 numbers) is similar, but the difference is the ability to bundle them. Calls to non-geographic numbers (not premium rate numbers if you want to ring those that’s you’re own problem, I’m talking about the numbers for service providers) are to my knowledge outside the scope of all mobile phone contracts inclusive minutes. Some of this is a problem of mobile phone companies charging unfairly for use of their services, but that’s a whole other blog post. In the mean time it is possible for companies to circumnavigate this problem by always providing an easy to find geographic alternative to their “lo call” number.

The continuation (perpetuation) of “lo-call” rate numbers could be down to the fact that these numbers are “revenue sharing” where part of the call cost is paid to the recipient of the call (the way these numbers are administered is due to change in 2013). Whatever the reason behind their perpetuation in a world where there is no difference between the cost to call a number within your area code and a number outside it, they seem like an extremely unfair way of generating extra money from a consumer who has no choice but to call because they require the service that is being provided (i.e. insurance) and who cannot vote with their feet because they are only calling because they have to and not because they are trying to buy something from the company in question.

I don’t have an answer to this other than to say please, give us a geographic alternative.

[1] data from Number Crunching: How much does a phone call really cost? [PDF], (prices correct as of 18-07-2012)