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Government cuts off costly calls

Customers calling helplines to complain will no longer have to pay more than the basic rate putting a stop to costly calls.

Customers calling helplines to complain about their faulty microwaves or incorrect train tickets will no longer have to pay more than the basic rate, putting a stop to costly calls faced by consumers, announced Consumer Minister Jo Swinson today (13 December 2013).

Following consultation with business associations and consumer bodies, the government will put an end to expensive premium, 084 and 087 numbers for customers calling airlines, train operators, and major high street and online retailers.

Whilst many firms already offer freephone or basic rate numbers, consumers can find that some traders provide an 0800 or free phone number for pre-contract calls to lure people in, but then only offer expensive premium rate numbers when the customer has paid for a product or service. Everyday examples, such as a security company offering a freephone number for new enquiries yet expecting existing customers to call an 0844 number to report a fault, would be stopped under the measures.

The government believes it is inappropriate for callers to pay high call charges for accessing vital public services and the Cabinet Office will be publishing guidance for departments’ use of number prefixes shortly.

Finally, the Financial Conduct Authority is also committed to considering whether it could introduce similar measures for those calling banks, insurance companies and investment brokers.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said:

It really is unfair that consumers are being stung in this way. For too long, some businesses have been trying to extract every extra penny from their loyal customers.

From next year (2014), if something goes wrong with a cooker, or commuters want a refund on their season ticket, they will now pay the same to phone a helpline as they do to call friends or family.

We want consumers to be confident to shop with a range of traders. The new rights announced today will mean consumers are entitled to the same level of protection whether they are purchasing goods or services online, at home or in a shop.

Richard Lloyd, Which? Executive Director said:

This is a victory for the 63,000 people who supported our Costly Calls campaign calling on all companies and public bodies to provide basic rate numbers for all customer service and complaint telephone lines. We’re pleased the government has extended the Consumer Rights Directive to include travel firms and that it has now agreed and clarified that basic rate does not include pricey 084 or 087 numbers.

We look forward to seeing the guidance to stop public bodies using high rate numbers and we expect the Financial Conduct Authority to introduce similar measures in financial services to ensure that there are no exceptions and put an end to costly calls across the board.

Tom Ironside, British Retail Consortium Director of Business and Regulation, said:

The British Retail Consortium has been fully supportive of the Consumer Rights Directive and has been closely involved at all stages including shaping the original proposal and working in the European parliament to secure a good outcome. It should make online retail in the UK and EU easier for business and consumers.

The measure is to be included in the Regulations implementing the Consumer Rights Directive, which is due to come into force in June 2014. It also includes:

  • increasing the time limit for returning goods purchased online or by phone from 7 days to 14 days after the goods have been received, should the consumer change their mind
  • banning pre-ticked tick boxes for extras that the consumer may not want or need and that could result in unexpected payment
  • setting out key information consumers should be given by traders before agreeing to purchase, like additional costs or cancellation rights

Businesses will also benefit from the new Consumer Rights Directive regulations, which will make it clearer that goods bought at a distance (e.g. online) must be returned or proof of posting must be provided to the trader before the consumer can get a refund. Traders will also be able to deduct money from refunds where there is evidence that a returned product has been used.

Notes to editors

1.The regulations on the Consumer Rights Directive are available at: www.gov.uk/government/policies/providing-better-information-and-protection-for-consumers

2.Basic rate means equivalent to standard geographic rates (e.g. 01/02/ 03 numbers) or mobile rates, or free to call.


  • a home appliance company uses 0844 numbers to arrange a service or repair, but offers an 0800 number for product enquiries
  • a large retailer provides an 0845 number for queries about website orders

3.At present, consumers can pay more than the standard rate to call a customer helpline. These costs can vary, depending on the number, the consumer’s telephone provider, the time of day, and whether the call is from a landline or a mobile. Certain numbers may also be included in call packages and inclusive minutes. The table below sets out typical call costs for a range of numbers:

Calling from a landline Calling from a mobile
0845 1 to 11p per minute, plus a set up fee of up to 14p 14 to 41p per minute
0844 1 to 13p per minute 20 to 41p per minute
0870 No more than a geographic rate call from some landline providers, plus a set up fee. Up to 11p per minute plus a set up fee from other landline providers 14 to 41p per minute
0871/2/3 11 to 15p per minute plus a set up fee 20 to 41p per minute
09 9p to £1.69 per minute from BT landline. Up to £2.16 per minute from other landline providers 50p to £2.50 per minute
Calls between landlines are typically charged up to 10p per minute

4.All helplines relating to consumer contracts are covered by the Directive, with the exception of a number of sectors, which are better governed by sector-specific rules: gambling, package travel, timeshare, and financial services.

5.The Financial Conduct Authority is committed to considering whether they should introduce a similar measure on customer helplines for financial services shortly. A number of banks (Barclays, Barclaycard, NatWest and RBS) have already announced that they will be switching to basic rate customer helplines.

6.Examples of where the draft regulations will help consumers:

Purchasing something online:

You buy a dress from an online retailer and you don’t like the look of the fabric once you have seen it in person. You will now have 14 days after you receive it to change your mind and return the dress for a refund. Previously it was only 7 days.

Pre-ticked boxes:

You buy a washing machine online. When you get to the payment page, the trader offers a 5 year warranty for £110. The box is already ticked. If you do not want the warranty, and miss or forget to untick the box, you are not liable for the £110, which should be refunded to you.

7.Key facts:

  • according to the latest IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) Capgemini eRetail Sales Index, British online shoppers spent £68 billion in 2011
  • Civil Aviation Authority survey of UK’s top 20 airlines showed most used an 084 number, and 3 used a premium rate number typically costing £1 to 1.28 per minute from a landline
  • recent Which? research found:
    • 15 of the biggest train operators use 0844 or 0845 numbers for their customer helplines.
    • 24 of the 38 airlines included in the study give high rate numbers for consumers to call for customer service or to complain, while 11 ferry companies give 0871, 0872, 0845 or 0843 numbers for customer inquiries
    • two-thirds of people (67%) believed firms used high-rate numbers to discourage people from calling them

8.Along with the draft Consumer Rights Bill announced in June 2013, the reforms to consumer law will enhance consumer rights and make them easier to understand and help businesses interpret and apply the law. The changes will boost the UK economy by over £4 billion over the next decade. For more information on the wider consumer changes please go to: www.gov.uk/government/policies/providing-better-information-and-protection-for-consumers

9.The government’s economic policy objective is to achieve ‘strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries’. It set 4 ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’, published at Budget 2011:

  • to create the most competitive tax system in the G20
  • to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
  • to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
  • to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe

Work is underway across government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the government wants the economy to travel.

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