Which? demands a ban on costly calls

A new Which? campaign is asking for a ban on costly calls, as new Which? research finds that two-thirds of people (67%) think companies use high-rate numbers to discourage people calling them.

Three quarters (75%) would be put off phoning customer services if they had to use a high-rate number, and three in five (63%) would be put off making a complaint. Two thirds (66%) have taken other actions, like emailing, to avoid calling a high-rate number when they wanted to complain.

Consumers should not have to pay a premium to make a complaint, or be faced with a high phone bill if they want to speak to a company. The Which? Costly Calls campaign wants all companies to provide a basic rate number for all customer service and complaints telephone lines.

Under recent changes to the EU Consumer Rights Directive (CRD), calls to customer helplines must be charged at no more than the basic rate. However, financial services and public bodies are not included in this legislation, and the Government is currently consulting on whether to include travel, timeshare and package travel in the ban.

The Which? Costly Calls campaign is asking:

  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to clarify existing rules to stop financial services companies from using costly numbers on complaints lines, and change the rules so this also covers customer helplines.
  • The Government to extend the CRD ban to the travel industry as soon as possible.
  • Public bodies to lead by example and ban costly numbers across the board in a consistent way, overseen by the Government.

Which? is calling on consumers to support the Costly Calls campaign.


Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said:

“It’s outrageous that consumers are faced with a high phone bill just to ask a question or make a complaint. It’s no wonder that people think companies do this deliberately to deter them from complaining.

“We want an end to all costly calls for customer service and complaints, and new rules so that all companies have to provide a basic rate number. There should be no exceptions.”


Our research also finds:

  • Four in five people (80%) think that companies who make them use high rate phone numbers don’t value them as a customer.
  • Half of people (49%) have regretted calling a high-rate number in the past year because of the cost.
  • Three in five people (58%) can’t afford to call a high-rate number from their mobile.
  • Four in five (79%) don’t think it’s reasonable for public bodies to have high-rate numbers.

Many high street banks use 0845 numbers for their complaint lines including HSBC, Natwest, RBS, Santander, First Direct and Halifax. Examples of public bodies that use 0845 numbers include the Student Loans Company, the Environment Agency Flood Line and the Redundancy payments service helpline.


Notes to Editors:

  1. Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a random sample of 2070 GB adults aged 18+ online between 30th August and 1st September 2013.  Data has been weighted to the profile of all GB adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  2. High-rate numbers are all telephone numbers starting with 09, 0845, 0844, and 0871. ‘Premium rate’ numbers only strictly apply to numbers that start 09 and 0871 which falls within the remit of PhonePayPlus, the premium rate regulator. Basic rate numbers are all geographical numbers starting with 01/02/03.
  3. The EU Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) covers all sectors where consumers are paying for a good or service. The EU allows for some limited exclusions and the UK is therefore exempting: financial services, gambling, social services, property transactions and most aspects of passenger transport.
  4. The Financial Conduct Authority’s complaint handling rules require financial services companies to allow customers to make complaints “free of charge”. We want them to clarify that this means that firms shouldn’t be using high-rate phone numbers for complaint lines.
  5. The majority of Government services were never in scope in the CRD legislation but we want to see a clear and consistent approach to banning costly numbers across the public sector. We will hold Cabinet Office to its commitment to announce firm proposals in the next six to eight weeks.
  6. The National Audit Office recently estimated the consumer cost of premium numbers for public services helplines is £56 million http://www.nao.org.uk/report/charges-for-customer-telephone-lines/
  7. Other actions that consumers have taken to avoid calling a high-rate number:
  • 52% – emailed instead
  • 39% – contacted company through their website
  • 31% – looked up local rate alternative
  • 13% – wrote to the company
  • 8% – visited the company in person
  • 6% – used social media instead

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