118 directory inquiry numbers now cost more than premium rate | Internet, telephones and broadband
HIlary Wagstaff’s 90-year-old aunt needed to finalize her water company bill after moving to a retirement community. When she tried to call Southern Water, a recorded message informed her that the number she had dialed was no longer in use and that she should call a directory inquiry number, 118 004, to be connected . After several attempts, she was put in touch with the company.
The cost of this small housekeeping was £501 – for six calls to the directory inquiry number. Wagstaff’s aunt had fallen victim to a directory service which costs £15.98 for the initial call and £7.99 per minute thereafter. If callers agree to be routed to the number they requested, a charge of £7.99 applies for the duration of the ensuing call, including the inevitable long wait in line. waiting for customer service.
“On one occasion she was left online for 18 minutes racking up £154 in charges, and on another attempt she was connected to Severn and not Southern Water,” says Wagstaff. Added to this exorbitant cost are access charges levied by the caller’s own network operator, which in this case was BT, who charge 11 pence a minute to connect to a 118 number.
The bill arose after his aunt accidentally dialed Southern’s customer service number, which is one digit different from a number operated by Telecom2, a London-based company that provides services including telephone numbers, businesses. Following a dialing error, she triggers the message inviting her to call the telephone information service, hosted by Telecom2. The charges involved are mentioned in the message, but only at the end, when many callers would have picked up or hung up.
Directory inquiry services that supply and connect to requested phone numbers are allowed to charge such exorbitant fees by telecoms regulator Ofcom, and Wagstaff’s aunt’s experience highlights just how scam the service has become. since the industry was deregulated in 2003. The focus at the time was to reduce prices by ending BT’s monopoly on the service and increasing competition. At the time, the company provided the service for a flat fee of 40p, which with inflation would equal 60p today. Since then, however, charges from a landline have increased 17 times on average, and even more if you are calling from a mobile phone.
In 2012 Ofcom proposed capping the cost of calls to 118 numbers to prevent customers from unwittingly racking up huge bills and reduce fraud. However, after a three-year review, he abandoned his own recommendations. The regulator explains that directory providers, unsurprisingly, did not want such restrictions on their profits. “The industry argued that there was no evidence of fraud associated with the 118 range that would justify a retail price constraint on a previously unregulated service,” an Ofcom spokesperson said. “They argued that the price transparency rules we were also proposing were sufficient to protect customers from astronomical bills. We maintained our concerns, but concluded that we did not have strong enough evidence to impose price controls at this time.
These price transparency rules split the cost of premium rate calls and service numbers, such as 0845, 087 and 118, between a service charge charged by the provider and an access charge levied by the carrier’s own network. the caller. Previously, access charges were included in the overall cost of each call. The intention was to make the cost of a call clearer to customers, but critics say it instead increased confusion and drove up costs.
The current situation is that 0845 and 0870 numbers cover over 100 escalating rates, free calls at £15.98 plus £7.99 per minute, and since access charges vary from 3p to 55p per minute depending on the network operator, customers should look up their carrier’s terms and conditions for the total amount.
In addition, Ofcom last year allowed the industry to introduce higher rates for 118 numbers, including the £15.98 connection charge levied by Telecom2, although 118 004 is currently the only service at the use.
Of the two most popular directory inquiry services, 118 118 has increased prices by 57% since 2015, bringing the minimum cost of a call to £6.98 plus access charges; while BT’s 118500 service, which charges £4.44 for a one-minute call, has grown by 24% in two years. If a customer agrees to be connected to the requested number, the charges can quickly climb into double digits. An O2 customer making a 10 minute call via 118 118 would face a bill of £49 including O2’s 55p per minute access charge. 118,118 and 118,500 were sentenced to heavy fines in 2014 for failing to clarify their charges.
Le Numéro, which operates line 118 118, tells The Observer: “118 118 is not in a position to comment on the company’s internal financing matters. 118 118, however, strives to accommodate the diverse needs of its customers by offering a range of services at different price points. For some, speed and convenience are paramount, for others it can be a cost.
Despite Ofcom’s claims that there’s no evidence of fraud, industry insiders fear price hikes will encourage missed calls, with scammers using automated systems to dial multiple numbers and then hang up before the recipient can respond. If they return the missed call, they are connected to a premium rate number and are charged up to £15.98 for the connection. Contributors to several web forums report being called by the same Hereford and Lincolnshire landlines. When he is called back, a message informs him that the number is not in service and he is asked to dial 118 004 from Telecom2. Telecom2 insists it never makes outgoing calls, although it takes advantage of anyone who subsequently dials its directory inquiry number. Exceptionally, the invitation to call 118 004 welcomes anyone who calls an out of service number belonging to Telecom2. Most other network operators advise those calling an unobtainable number to hang up and try again.
Most of those who fall victim to exorbitant service charges are seniors who do not have internet access. Ofcom admits the obvious – that some companies have raised their prices so high that customers may be exposed to surprise bills or fraud. “We are therefore carefully monitoring the impact of the adoption of these new higher rates by a minority of specialist 118 providers, and are actively considering whether further action is warranted,” a spokesperson said. The premium rates watchdog, the Phone-paid Services Authority, meanwhile said that following complaints it was investigating the 118 004 service.
It shouldn’t bother. following The Observer’s Telecom2 investigation suddenly withdrew the number. A message now redirects callers from the company’s many out-of-service numbers to a 118 018 directory line which charges a £2 connection fee plus a £2 per minute charge. “The 118 004 service is no longer actively promoted and has been replaced by a service below average market price,” Telecom2 Chairman Rob Johnson said.
Telecom2 has now reimbursed Wagstaff’s aunt for the cost of her calls, following pressure from The Observerand BT reimbursed the access fee.
Activists, including complaints website Resolver, are calling for 118 charges to be clarified. “People tend to think the charges are their fault for not listening carefully to recorded messages, but frankly I was amazed to find out how high the charges can be when a 118 service puts you on hold. communication with another number,” spokesman Martyn said. James.
REDUCE 118 COSTS
If you don’t have internet access and need to find a phone number, there are over 100 directory inquiry numbers in operation, but most people only know the heavily promoted 118 118 operated by The Number, and BT’s 118. 500 services.
A one minute call to the former will cost £6.98 plus access charges of up to 55p depending on your operator, and if you agree to be connected to the number you have chosen you will continue to pay the increased rate for as long as the call lasts.
Not many people realize that The Number also offers a free alternative on 0800 118 3733. The service is automated and you have to place a preliminary ad, but after that it costs nothing.
It is usually cheaper to call your own service provider’s directory inquiry number. Virgin Media, for example, allows customers of any of its mobile and landline plans up to 10 free calls to its own 118 180 a day, although charges will apply if you choose to be connected to the number you you are looking for.
Vodafone, meanwhile, charges customers 80p a minute plus an access fee of 55p a minute to use its 118 881 service.
O2 customers pay £1.30 a minute to use the company’s 118 402 directory inquiry service.
BT operates the free 195 telephone information number for people with disabilities. To register, you must call 0800 587 0195 to obtain a form, which will then need to be countersigned by a GP or other healthcare professional.