If you're calling a financial service firm's customer service helplines to ask for assistance or to complain, you soon won't have to use a costly premium rate number under a crackdown by the regulator.

From 26 October 2015, financial services firms will be banned from using pricey premium rate numbers for existing customers. Instead customers will be charged no more than the standard rate of geographic numbers beginning 01, 02, 03.

But the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) rules won't apply to non-customers where premium rate numbers can still be used. See our Say No to 0870 guide for tips on cutting costs.

Shoppers making post-contract inquiries already benefit from the same rights under the Consumer Rights Directive, which came into force in June 2014. However, as the directive doesn't apply to financial services, the FCA is implementing its own rules.

Improving complaints handling

In a separate bid to improve complaints handling, the FCA has also announced that from 30 June 2016, financial firms will have three working days following a complaint being received to resolve it – up from the current one working day.

The FCA says it is increasing the time frame to ensure more complaints are resolved in the first instance. But this only applies to what's called an "informal complaint", where a resolution can be provided relatively simply, by using a template letter.

Martin Lewis
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Within this template letter firms will also have to tell customers about their right to take their complaint to the independent complaints arbitrator, the Financial Ombudsman Service. Currently firms don't have to do this.

However, firms will continue to have eight week to resolve "formal complaints" where a resolution is tailored to the individual's problem and can't be solved using a template letter. Firms will also continue to have to tell these customers about their right to go to the Ombudsman.

From 30 June 2016, financial firms will also be required to report all complaints to the FCA, which will publish the data and provide additional context to enable consumers to better compare firms. Currently, firms are only required to report complaints to the FCA which take longer than a day to resolve.

Financial services firms face premium rate number crackdown
Financial services firms face premium rate number crackdown

'Rules will deliver quicker, easier and fairer resolution'

Christopher Woolard, director of strategy and competition at the FCA, says: "Our rules will help deliver the quicker, easier and fairer resolution to complaints that consumers want. Getting this right is also vital for firms.

"A properly resolved complaint can keep a customer happy, and protect the firm’s reputation. But, more than that, effective complaints handling systems can act as an early warning system for firms."