Which? calls on banks to cut out costly calls 73% of customer numbers are high rate

17 November 2013


Which? is calling on financial firms to cut off costly calls after finding nearly three-quarters (73%) of the phone numbers used for customer service or complaint lines are high rate telephone numbers.

We looked at phone numbers used by companies for eight financial services including current accounts, loans, insurance and credit cards and found that 177 out of 242 customer service or complaint lines are pricey 084 or 087 numbers. 

Financial services costs

This includes leading high street banks and building societies such as HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and TSB Bank, as well as credit card providers American Express, Capital One and Tesco Bank and insurers Aviva, Churchill and Direct Line.

Financial Services costly calls
 No. of providers% of providers using 084 or 087 for customer service or complaints lines
Credit cards2095%
Current Accounts1889%
Car Insurance3982%
Home Insurance3479%
Travel Insurance3272%
Payday loans6749%
All telephone numbers were checked in August/September 2013

We found that four in ten people (39%) prefer to call financial firms with an enquiry, and nearly a third (31%) would rather complain by phone. Yet nearly all (95%) of the credit cards providers we looked at use 084 or 087 numbers for complaints or customer service helplines and nine in 10 (89%) of current account providers use them for complaints or customer service helplines.

Barclays drops costly calls   

Existing customers are also being charged more than new ones, as free-from-landline 0800 numbers are used for 52% of sales or new customer lines, compared to just 26% for existing customers and 21% for complaints.

In a positive response to our Costly Calls campaign, Barclays and Barclaycard have announced that they will be offering a freephone or basic rate number for all customer helplines so they are cheaper to call from both landlines and mobiles. 

NatWest and RBS have also committed to introducing basic rate numbers for all of their customer enquiry lines and a free phone line for complaints from the end of this month. 

Which? is pleased that Barclays and Barclaycard are the first major providers to drop costly calls and we ask others to follow their example.

Which? calls for FCA action

The EU Consumer Rights Directive ban on the use of expensive numbers for customer helplines comes into force next year, but financial firms are excluded. Which? is calling on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to clarify existing rules to stop financial services companies from using high rate numbers on complaints lines, and change the rules so they also cover customer helplines.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said: “Millions of us prefer to deal with our bank on the phone, yet we are expected to cough up for a costly call when we do. We applaud Barclays and Barclaycard for breaking from the pack on high rate numbers and want to see other financial firms follow their lead. 

"It's also great news that NatWest and RBS are doing the right thing for their customers by dropping costly calls. The new leaders at RBS have promised to renew the banks' efforts to improve customer service, and this is a very welcome start.

“It’s not right that financial companies are being let off the hook. The FCA must act now to put an end to costly calls in this sector.”

Join our Costly Calls campaign

We want a ban on costly calls to all customer service and complaint lines. 

  • The financial regulator should immediately clamp down on companies with expensive complaint numbers and introduce a ban on costly customer service calls
  • The government should extend the ban to travel companies
  • Public bodies should lead by example and stop using expensive phone lines

Almost 60,000 people have already signed up to our Costly Calls campaign – you can show your support at www.which.co.uk/costlycalls

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