MSE update: Friday 12 June, 10.47am – since this story was published, Vodafone announced that from 10 August, its new access charge for 08, 09 and 118 calls will be 45p/minute, up from the 23p/minute charge it will be bringing in from 1 July. This will make Vodafone the most expensive provider in terms of its access charge.
Further, the premium rate cap for 09 numbers has been amended to £6/call or £3.60/minute.
The price you'll pay to call banks, businesses and government departments from both landlines and mobiles will become more transparent from 1 July under new Ofcom rules, but the amount providers are charging varies wildly.
From 1 July, 'service numbers' – the digits you dial beginning with 084, 087, 09 and 118 usually to call banks, travel services, government departments, to vote in a competition or to ring directory enquiries – will be split into two parts:
- Access charge: This is charged per minute by your provider to connect your call.
- Service charge: This is charged by the organisation you're trying to call.
By adding the two together, you can work out how much you'll pay for the call. The new rules come after research by the communications regulator found that consumers are often confused about how much it costs to call service numbers and that they lack confidence in using them.
At present, you pay part of the cost to the provider and part to the company you're calling, but the costs are not separated. They're lumped into one sum, so users don't know exactly whom or what they're paying.
Calls to numbers other than these will not be split into an access and service charge – you'll simply pay the usual rate given by your provider.
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How much will my provider charge?
We asked the major mobile and home phone providers how much their access charges will be from 1 July, and the prices vary wildly.
TalkTalk, for example, will charge 5p/minute to make calls from a home phone, while EE home phone customers will pay 11p/minute. TalkTalk, which piggybacks off the Vodafone network, will also have the cheapest access charge for mobile users at 20p/minute, whereas the most expensive is EE, including Orange and T-Mobile, at 44p/minute.
Here's the full run-down of access charges:
|Provider||Home phone access charge||Mobile access charge|
||N/A||Charges available from June|
The access charge can be waived if those numbers are included or free within a bundle, but the decision to do this is down to the individual provider. (i) BT says customers on its low-income tariff will not pay the access charge for any call. (ii) EE offers an 084 and 087 add-on for £3/month so customers pay 1p/minute to these numbers. (iii) From 10 August, the access charge will be 45p/minute. Orange and T-Mobile are part of the EE group.
Also changing on 1 July, the service charge for premium rate 09 numbers will be capped at either £6/call or £3.60/minute, depending on how the call is charged.
The service charge for 084 numbers will be capped at 7p/minute, while the service charge for 087 numbers will be capped at 13p/minute.
What about calls to other numbers?
As outlined above, calls to numbers other than 084, 087 and 118 will not be split into an access and service charge. You'll simply pay the usual rate given by your provider. Here's what you need to know:
- 0800 or 0808 numbers: These are already free to call from landlines, but they will become free to call from mobiles from 1 July.
- 01, 02 and 03 numbers: The move by Ofcom does not affect calls to geographic numbers starting 01, 02 and 03, or to calls to mobiles starting 07. These will continue to be free if made within your inclusive calls package. Outside of your calls package, you'll pay the rate charged by your provider.
- Calls from payphones: These are unaffected and the price you'll pay varies. Prices are set out by BT.
- Calls to international numbers or calls to the UK from abroad: These are unaffected. You'll pay the rate set out by your provider.
Weren't calls to premium rate numbers banned?
Under the EU Consumer Rights Directive, which came into force on 13 June 2014, callers pay no more than the standard rate of geographic numbers (beginning 01, 02, 03) when calling a retailer or provider with a query about goods or services they've already bought.
Providers and retailers are still allowed to use premium rate numbers for new customers. See the Shopping online or by phone? Your consumer rights are now boosted MSE News story.
In December last year, as part of its move to improve the complaints handling process, the Financial Conduct Authority proposed that financial services firms no longer be able to make customers use premium rate numbers such as those beginning with 0845 and 09.
At the time the FCA said it was not fair that consumers often have to use expensive phone lines when calling firms to ask for help or to complain. It launched a consultation on the proposal and says the outcome is likely to be published in the "next few months".