Rise of the 0844

Over the past few years, companies and government agencies (but of course) have seen fit to rip us off through 0845 and 0870 numbers.

Inaccurately called “local” and “national” rate respectively, since their introduction the charge for calling these numbers has drifted so far from the actual cost of local and national calls that they are effectively premium rate numbers whose primary purpose is to generate a revenue for the called party.

Ofcom, our industry-friendly communications regulator, almost took action and as of 1 February 2008 a change was due: they were no longer able to generate revenue for the called party. It’s now looking unlikely that the change will take place but, nonetheless, the law of unintended consequences has kicked in and the situation is now worse for us poor fools who have to call customer services departments, GP out of hours services and local councils.

Many of the “national” rate numbers (around 8p per minute) are now turning up as 0871 (10 p per minute) and the 0845 numbers as 0844. The 0844s are interesting: they can be just about any bloody price imaginable and you’ll have a hard time finding out exactly what you’re paying until your phone bill turns up. And, of course, the 0845 and 0870 numbers will more than likely continue to be a rip-off.

There is a way around this, in some cases: SayNoTo0870.com is a superb resource but, and through no fault of the community behind it, incomplete. However, if you have to deal with an organisation that wants to charge you extra for the privilege of calling them – perhaps to complain about a faulty TV they supplied – tell them you’re not happy.

Judging by the DVLA’s response to a freedom of information request (PDF) and the general contempt in which many public services hold tax payers, I hold no hope that any tax-funded service will offer you an alternative. However, that good old magic of capitalism – competition – may just give us some sway with privately held organisations.