BT, Britain’s biggest landline supplier announced it would abolish call fees to the controversial numbers.
From 16 January, some 14 million customers with any of BT’s call packages will benefit from free calls to what are normally premium rate lines.
Currently, BT subscribers pay up to 5.8p a minute for 0870 numbers and up to 1.96p a minute for 0845 numbers, with a 7p set-up charge on top (even when calls to landline numbers starting 01, 02 or 03 are free). Other landline suppliers can hit customers for more – up to 10p a minute for 0870 numbers in some cases.
However, customers will still be charged for calls to the even more expensive 0871 and 0844 numbers, where fees can exceed 10p a minute.
“We are the first UK phone company to tackle these charges,” says BT. “Customers often complain their calling packages did not include the 0870 and 0845 numbers. These are frequently used by banks, insurance companies and even doctor’s surgeries.” Calls to Revenue & Customs helplines and NHS Direct are also 0845 numbers.
0845 and 0870 numbers generate profits for the banks, utility firms and other organisations that use them, with 40%-60% of the call fee going to the organisation answering the phone.
BT says it will take a financial hit, absorbing the extra fees with no increase in monthly charges to customers. It estimates the move is worth £24m a year to its phone users, and claims a typical subscriber spends 30 minutes a month calling these numbers.
The government recently announced a review of doctors and NHS departments using 0844 and 0845 numbers. Citizens Advice and other consumer organisations are also campaigning for calls to 0800 numbers, which are free from landlines, to be “no cost” from mobiles. Many of the poorest families have no access to a landline or a telephone box.