Update: 29 May 2015: See the Call rates for 084, 087, 09 and 118 to be clearer, but prices vary wildly MSE News story for an update on Ofcom's call cost rules, which will now take force from 1 July 2015.

0800 numbers will be free to call from mobiles in 2015, while new rules to make the cost of calling businesses and services clearer are also going to be introduced, Ofcom has announced today.

0800 numbers, which are used by bodies including government departments and the NHS, can cost 20p/minute to call from mobiles, despite being generally free to call from landlines (see our Free 0800 Calls From Mobiles and Say No To 0870 guides for tips on cutting costs).

Meanwhile, when consumers make calls to non-geographic 08, 09 and 118 numbers – which are often used for banking, directory enquiry and entertainment services – unless they are using a BT line, they're generally not informed of how much they will be charged and these calls can be costly.

But telecoms regulator Ofcom has today released the details of a number of changes to make telephone call charges both cheaper and simpler. Here's what's happening:

  • Freephone will mean free. Calls to Freephone 0800, 0808 and 116 numbers, which are generally free from landlines, will become free from mobile phones too.
  • Giving consumers a better idea of the cost of 08, 09 and 118 numbers. Calls to these numbers will be listed as a service charge to the company or organisation you're calling, plus an access charge, which is set by the phone provider and will cost the same regardless of the number called. Consumers can work out the exact cost of making a call by adding the access and service charges together. But users will need to try and remember their network charge.
  • Premium rate charges will be capped. The service charge for premium rate 09 numbers will be capped at either £5/call or £3/minute depending on how the call is charged.

Change is a long way off

However, these changes won't become part of Ofcom rules until 26 June 2015, which is a long way off.

The regulator also doesn't however have the power to force organisations to use certain telephone numbers. It is however meeting with public and not-for-profit bodies, including Government departments, to encourage them to use 03 numbers, which cost no more to call than a geographic 01 or 02 number, and must be included in a customers' inclusive minutes or discount schemes.

In the meantime, if you can't beat the fees using your inclusive minutes there are other nifty tricks you can use to cut costs. You can use the website SayNoTo0870.com, for example, to search for an alternative, geographic number for many 08 numbers.

Guy Anker from MoneySavingExpert.com says: "It's scandalous how firms, and sometimes public service bodies such as GPs, make so much money from unsuspecting callers, often needing vital info.

"But these changes are a long way off and they still won't make it simple to understand the real cost, nor will it stop firms using expensive numbers. For now, easily cut costs by finding the geographical alternative, such as 020 or 0121, as these often fall under inclusive minutes, meaning no extra charge."

'Biggest change in more than a decade'

Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom, says: "These changes will be the biggest for UK telephone customers in more than a decade. We expect them to restore people's confidence in using phone services, and to increase competition.

"Freephone will mean free for all consumers, and the cost of calling other services will be made clear. Telephone users will be able to see how much they're paying, and where their money is going."

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson announced plans earlier this year to stop traders (barring those in financial services and public transport) from using premium rate numbers. But the directive this comes under doesn't have to come into force until June 2014.  

Cutting costs now

As Ofcom's rules don't come into force for a few years, here's what you can do now to cut costs:

  • Check whether the number you need is part of your inclusive package, or is free to call before ringing it.
  • Use the website SayNoTo0870.com to search for an alternative, geographic number for many 08 numbers.
  • If you've a landline, use an override provider. This is a special phone company you can access without changing your home phone provider, 'overriding' the network. You can usually undercut the big providers.
  • If you have to use your mobile, you can cut costs to 0800 numbers by using the 0800Buster or the 0800 Wizard, which provide alternative access numbers.