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'Biggest call changes in a decade' come into effect today

Wednesday, July 1st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Freephone numbers are now free to call from all phones, mobile or landline, in landmark changes that come into effect today.

From today, all numbers that begin 0800 or 0808 will become free for consumers to call from both mobiles and landlines.

Charges will also become clearer for calls to numbers starting 084, 087, 09, and 118.

Ofcom is describing the move as the biggest change to telephone calls in years, affecting 175m phone numbers.

Numbers starting 084, 087, 09 and 118 are often used by businesses, helplines and directory enquiries, competition and voting services.

Every year, callers in the UK spend a total of 250m hours calling these service numbers, spending around £900m between them, according to Ofcom research.

Until now, callers to these numbers have not generally been told by their provider how much they will be charged.

But in changes that come into effect today, prices will be clearer on phone bills and in advertising and marketing.

Exact cost of calls

The changes, part of a new system dubbed ‘UK Calling’, will allow consumers to see the exact cost of making a call to a service number.

Charges will be made up of an ‘access charge’ going to the phone company, plus a ‘service charge’ set by the company or organisation being called.

Phone companies will have to make the access charge clear on bills, and tell new customers about the charge when they sign up to a contract.

And the company or organisation that is being called will also have to specify its service charge wherever it advertises the phone number.

By adding the charges together, customers will be able to work out the cost of the call.

Currently, information given to callers is along the lines of:

“Calls cost Xp per minute from a BT landline. Calls may vary from other landlines and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more.”

Under the new system, the cost of calls will be explained in a simpler format:

“Calls cost Xp per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.”

'See what they're paying'

The changes mean that from today, consumers know that when they call a Freephone number from a mobile the call will be free, as well as understanding the exact cost of calls to service numbers, Ofcom said.

They will also be able to more easily compare prices of different service providers and choose providers with a competitive access charge.

With service number charges being made clearer, many organisations that used 084 and 087 numbers in the past are moving, or have already moved, to 03 numbers, the regulator said.

Calls to 03 numbers cost no more than calls to geographic 01 and 02 numbers and are now used by most government departments, major banks, public bodies and not-for-profit organisations.

Ofcom chief executive Sharon White said: “UK Calling is the biggest change to telephone calls in over a decade.

“Together we spend around £900m a year calling service numbers, so it’s important that people understand the cost before they pick up the phone.

“Callers will be able to see what they’re paying and where their money is going.”

More information on the changes and what they mean are available on ukcalling.info, she said.

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