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Tue, 16 Dec 2008

NHS rip-off phone numbers

It has been a long-standing grump of mine how so many companies and - far worse - public bodies such as the NHS only publish rip-off phone numbers for their clients to talk to them on. These rip-off numbers include 087 numbers, 084, 080, and 07 numbers.

084 is marketed as being low cost, limited to the same rate as a local call - it's often misleadingly called "local rate" or "lo-call". What rot! It's actually priced to be the same rate as a local call at BT's standard tariff. But how many people are on BT's standard tariff? Cheaper tariffs are available from BT themselves, and of course no-one who uses another telco (such as Virgin Media if you're on cable, or any of the mobile companies) will be on BT's tariff. The people receiving calls on 084 and 087 numbers actually get paid by the telco for generating the call, that's how expensive they are - the telco charges punters so much that they can afford to pass some of it on to someone else.

080 is of course used for "free" calls. But these are not always free. They're certainly not free if you call from a mobile, like how most people make their calls these days.

Finally, after many years of abuse, this scandalous rip-off seems to be getting some attention. However, watch out for a common lie told by advocates of these rip-off numbers. They say that it's only now that the new 03 range exists that companies can move away from rip-off numbers and still get the full range of services that they get from their rip-off provider. This is utter bullshit. All those services like call queueing are available on any number if you ask your telco for them.

The proof that it's bullshit is saynoto0870.com, a website whose operators and users have ferreted out alternative geographic numbers (those beginning 01 and 02; cheap or even free to call) which companies have, and which end up in exactly the same phone systems as their rip-off numbers do. I urge you to contribute data where you can. You can get hold of geographic numbers for public bodies by submitting Freedom Of Information Act requests. For commercial bodies, they will often tell you a cheap number to call if you tell them that you are going to be travelling abroad - the rip-offs are so expensive that foreign telcos will often simply refuse to let you dial them.

Posted at 20:17 by David Cantrell
keywords: media | telecoms
Permalink | 2 Comments

The reason that the NHS and GP surgeries etc. use these numbers is because they do generate revenue. They deny this though as they say that they don't earn anything from the numbers - but infact what they do earn are services-in-kind. For example, an 0844 number costs the end user approx 5p/min to call from a BT landline and 3.5p/min of this goes to the telco after BT's costs. The telco then offers IVR and PBX facilities (the familiar press 1 for, press 2 for, hold please) for "free" to the NHS, which would normally cost around 1-1.5p/min. Of course, the real bastards here are the telcos because they then keep the 2p/min left over as profit, and clients like the NHS generate HUGE amounts of traffic. Further to this, the telcos tie the NHS and others into stupidly long contracts they can't get out of.

The problem with the 'solution' of 03x numbers is that revenue sharing is banned on these numbers so someone has to pay the 1-1.5p a minute for the IVR/PBX facilities. And the telco aren't going to pay it, so that someone is the NHS who are now going to be faced with a rather large bill for it all...

Ofcom royally fucked all this up in the first place too because they didn't make the regulation tight enough to stop revenue sharing on 08x numbers - if they had said that only 09x (premium rate) numbers could share revenue this whole mess wouldn't have happened in the first place.

But as you say, you can always try the saynoto0870 website - most 08x numbers are simply port overlaps to 01x and 02x geographical numbers anyway and I like the idea of using the FOIA to get the details of them - but remember, when you call them the person or company you're calling is still paying the 1-1.5p/min for their IVR/PBX...!

Posted by Ben on Tue, 16 Dec 2008 at 21:05:39


Ranting and other campaigning activity are paying off as the wheel is now turning against use of revenue sharing numbers. It always turns slowly, so whilst we can remain angry, we must not be surprised.

Those who market over-priced use of non-geographic numbers, have been too successful. Until there is effective competition from providers of alternative cheaper and equally good systems, we will have to settle for services being transferred onto 03 (which can be done within the term of existing contracts) - that certainly resolves the major issue.

It is for those who can provide good solutions on geographic numbers to overcome the (possibly unfair, but not insummountable) obstacles that they face, to prove that public money can be saved in this way.

In the meantime, we must celebrate use of 03 numbers.

Posted by David Hickson on Wed, 7 Jan 2009 at 15:48:47


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