BT: The company is ditching charges for some premium rate numbers
Millions of BT customers will no longer have to pay to call numbers starting with 0870 and 0845 after Britain’s biggest landline supplier today announced it would abolish call fees to the controversial numbers.
From 16 January, 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,” said 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 HMRC 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 said it would 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, because customers complained they should not be charged more to call for medical help.
The BBC moved last year from 0870 to 03 numbers for many viewer and listener calls. 03 numbers are non-geographic but are included in landline and mobile call packages
Campaigners against these numbers have set up the saynoto0870 website to let customers know alternative 01,02 and 03 numbers with which to call the same companies.
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. These “freefone” calls are charged at up to 20p a minute from mobiles, even to those with call packages.
BT’s move does not help mobile users, but its 80,000 mobile customers can expect better news on the 0800 front later this spring as talks continue between it and Citizens Advice.
“Seven out of 10 mobile customers who call 0800 numbers from their mobile have no idea how much they are actually charged for making the calls. This brings in £88m in extra call charges,” said James Parker at moneysupermarket.com