Companies should stop using revenue-sharing phone numbers for customer service lines as they are confusing and expensive, Which? says today.
Our survey of just over 1000 people found that most didn’t know the costs involved when calling 0870 – one of the most expensive numbers.
Organisations that use 0845, 0844 and the higher charging 0870 and 0871 numbers can share the revenue from calls with the phone service provider – BT or Orange, for example. So the longer customers stay on the line, the more companies earn.
Which? called a range of customer service departments or helplines – broadband, energy and government agencies – that use revenue-sharing numbers.
Of the organisations called, the energy companies – which use 0845 numbers – had the longest waiting times, with an average of three and a half minutes wait to query a bill.
Npower was the worst of the companies Which? called, keeping researchers waiting seven minutes on average – which would cost 24p from a BT landline but up to £1.05 on a mobile phone.
A ten-minute daytime call from a BT landline to a geographic number (01/02) could cost as little as 3p, but the same call could cost about 80p to an 0870 number.
According to premium-rate regulator Icstis, consumers spend more than £300 million a year dialling 0871.
Ofcom is introducing yet another code later this year: 03 numbers which will cost the same price as a geographic call and won’t be revenue-sharing.
Which? is calling for companies and government agencies that use revenue-sharing numbers for their customer support or advice lines to adopt the cheaper 03 code.
Which? Editor Neil Fowler said: ‘Revenue-sharing is a stealth tax of the worst kind. Tales of customers hanging on for ages at huge expense when they are trying to place an order – or even make a complaint – are numerous.
‘Where once businesses paid to look after customers, it now seems that customers must pay for the privilege of businesses looking after them.’