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Many public bodies, including the Student Loans Company, the Environment Agency Flood Line and the Redundancy payments service helpline, use high-rate numbers. We’re calling on public bodies to lead by example by scrapping expensive numbers for their customer services and complaints lines.
In a positive response to our Costly Calls campaign, Barclays, Barclaycard, Natwest and RBS have all announced that they will be offering a freephone or basic rate number for all their customer helplines.
This is great news for our 60,000 campaign supporters, and we applaud them for being the first to drop costly calls and we want others to follow their example.
A tipping point for banks
Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:
'With two of the biggest banking groups now leading the way by offering freephone or geographic numbers, we hope this is a tipping point for the banking sector - there's really no excuse for other providers not to follow suit.'
Financial firms use costly numbers
Four in ten people prefer to call financial firms with an enquiry, and yet our research found that nearly three quarters of the phone numbers used by financial firms for customer service or complaint lines are 084 or 087.
We looked at phone numbers used by companies for everything from current accounts to credit cards and found that 177 out of 242 customer service or complaint lines used pricey numbers.
That’s wrong – you shouldn’t have to cough up for costly calls to make a complaint. We want the Financial Conduct Authority to act now in order to put an end to costly calls in this sector.
If you think it’s wrong that you have to pay through the nose to call your bank or mortgage provider, sign our petition and tell your friends and families to do the same.
A Government committee has issued a report into the use of costly phone lines by public bodies, a practice that has been costing cash-strapped consumers millions of pounds.
And with 43% of all customer contact for Government lines coming via the telephone, the Government has decided it's time to act: great news for the 60,000 who have already signed our Costly Calls campaign petition.
Bumper bills for being on hold
The Cabinet Office has acknowledged that it is inappropriate for vulnerable citizens to pay high charges to access public services and has committed to establish best practice in this field and ensure it is followed across Government.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd welcomed the news saying:
'The Cabinet Office must now act fast to ensure the Government and public bodies lead by example and put an end to costly calls.'
You can help keep pressure on the Government by adding your name to our petition.
NHS England has told GPs to stop forcing patients to call expensive phone lines.
Around one in 12 practices still use high-rate numbers, despite rules in 2010 calling on GPs to move away from expensive numbers.
NHS England has called on GPs to stop requiring patients to dial expensive 084 numbers when trying to contact their doctor.
A health equalities issue
NHS England's deputy medical director Dr Mike Bewick said:
‘This is a health equalities issue. There is a real risk that more financially secure patients will wait on hold to get an appointment, no matter how much it costs them, where a poorer patient will be forced to hang up because they can't afford the cost of the call, and not receive treatment because of that.’
You shouldn't have to pay a premium
Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:
‘People should not have to pay a premium to make an appointment to see their GP, or be faced with a high phone bill if they have to wait on hold.'
We want all companies and public bodies, including GPs and NHS dentists, to offer either freephone or local rate numbers for their customer service and complaints phone lines. Help us by signing our Costly Calls petition, like more than 58,000 others!
Scottish Power is the last of the Big Six energy suppliers to move away from an expensive phone number for its customer service line.
Scottish Power changes numbers
Thanks to your support for our Costly Calls campaign, you can now call Scottish Power on 0800 0270 072 or 0345 270 0700.
From a landline, calls to 0800 numbers are free. And from a mobile, 03 calls cost no more than other local rate numbers and are included in most call packages.
Scottish Power told us:
‘We want to make it easier for our customers to deal with us and that’s why, following feedback from our customers and consumer groups including Which?, we are moving our main number to 0800 for our most frequently used Customer Service number.’
Sign our petition
We’re pleased to see that all of the Big Six energy suppliers now offer free or low-cost customer helplines.
We’d now like to see travel firms, financial companies and public bodies follow their example. You can help us achieve this by signing our Costly Calls petition.
We’re calling on travel companies to hang up on costly calls after we found 70% using high-rate phone numbers for their customer helplines.
We checked the websites of 76 popular travel companies to identify the numbers you’d typically find to use for customer service and complaints.
The worst offender was airline Jet2.com, which charged 60p per minute with an 09 premium rate number for its general enquiries helpline. Following our investigation, Jet2.com today announced that it will be dropping its premium rate number in favour of a number that charges at the national rate.
Other airlines including Ryanair, Monarch Airlines, FlyBe, KLM, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa use 0871 numbers for reservations, complaints or other customer enquiries. We also found most train, ferry and coach companies using high-rate 084 and 087 numbers for their customer helplines.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said:
‘Going on holiday is meant to be a pleasure but there is nothing fun about being whacked with a costly call. It’s a disgrace that people face bumper bills just to ask a question or make a complaint about their travel booking.’
Help us ban costly calls
Our research clearly shows that something must be done. You shouldn’t have to pay a premium to make a complaint, or be faced with a high phone bill if you want to speak to a company.
We’re renewing our call for travel companies to be subject to the EU Consumer Rights Directive, which says that customer helplines mustn’t charge more than the basic rate. The government’s currently consulting on whether to include travel, timeshare and package travel in the ban. Richard Lloyd added:
‘The government should close the loophole that allows travel companies to use costly phone numbers without delay.’
In just over four days, our Costly Calls campaign has reached an impressive 40,000 signatures! Thank you very much to our 40,000th supporter Michael, and everyone else who has signed our petition so far.
It's clear that the UK public is fed up with having to pay a premium just to make a complaint or get help. Next stop, 50,000!
We want all high-cost customer helplines banned - can you help us spread the word? Tell your friends and family about our Costly Calls campaign. And, if you're on Twitter, share this tweet with your followers:
Two-thirds of you think companies use high-cost numbers to discourage you from calling them.
We don't think you should pay a premium to make a complaint, or be faced with a high phone bill if you want to speak to a company. So we're calling for a ban on costly calls.
Our campaign is calling on all companies to provide a cheaper alternative for all customer service and complaints telephone lines.
Under recent changes to the EU Consumer Rights Directive, 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. Our campaign will tackle these areas.
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.
So, could this be the beginning of the end for rip-off call charges? Yes and no. Companies will still be able to charge higher rates when you’re purchasing goods or services, but not when you call up to complain about that purchase.
It's also worth noting that financial services aren't included in the government's proposals, as they are covered by separate regulations. This is disappointing considering that last year we found that most banks and insurers use 0800 numbers for new customers and 0845/0844 numbers for their existing loyal customers.
Government departments will also not be covered by the new rules, and the inclusion of transport companies is currently up for consultation. We're working out a plan to ensure all companies are forced to improve their costly calls.