Which? exposes firms using costly helplinesThey can profit while you wait for an answer

29 May 2008

Which? has named companies using expensive helplines that often make money at the expense of consumers.

More than 30 organisations are named in our helplines 'hall of shame' including Tiscali, Barclays, British Gas, TV Licensing and the DVLA - a government agency. 

They all use higher-charging 0871, 0870, 0844 or 0845 numbers for customer service or technical support lines.

Earning money

Organisations that use these numbers often share the revenue from calls with the phone service provider. That means that the longer a customer stays on the line, the more the organisation earns.

The telecoms regulator, Ofcom. introduced 03 numbers last year, which cost the same as calling a geographic (01 or 02) number, and it plans to stop organisations making money from 0870 numbers. 

But none of the organisations checked by Which? had switched to 03, and some have just switched from 0870 to other high cost numbers.

Calling helplines 

Which? called customer helplines at broadband and utility companies and government agencies to find out how long callers are kept waiting to speak to someone. 

AOL Broadband, British Gas and the DVLA kept people hanging on longest, with average waiting times of around three minutes.  One call to AOL Broadband was held for more than 15 minutes, at a cost of 75p from a BT landline.

One call to AOL Broadband was held for more than 15 minutes

The DVLA made £3.4 million from its 0870 number in the last financial year. It says it plans to switch to a cheaper number but it hasn’t said when.

Switch

Which? wants all companies to switch their helplines and technical support from expensive numbers to cheaper 03, 0800 (freephone) or geographic numbers.

Which? editor Neil Fowler said: ‘Why should you pay for the privilege of making a complaint or getting a problem fixed? It’s unacceptable that companies and government agencies can make big money from people calling helplines. 

‘Check if there’s a cheaper phone number or ask the company to refund the call cost – it’s the least they can do if you’re calling about a faulty product or bad service.’