back to article Ofcom's 0870 rip-off reforms stumble at the final hurdle

Ofcom has postponed long-scheduled new rules designed to clamp down on the non-geographic number rip-off, after it realised that its rules could scupper burglar alarms and monitoring systems for vulnerable people. Regulators have kept the news quiet. There's no announcement on its website. Ofcom told industry at a call routing …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
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    No good whatsoever

    "Ofcom decided to allow firms to opt out of providing standard rate national numbers - if they put out a free warning that the call will cost extra before it is answered."

    Typical of ofcom, Make the rule useless before its even had a chance.

    This is absolutely going to solve nothing. Companies should NOT be allowed to use 0870 numbers exclusively, with or without a warning.

    How is a warning going to help me, if its not also compulsory for the company to provide an alternative?

    And you can bet there's no intelligence in the rest of their proposals either, such as not allowing call queuing or IVR systems on 0870 numbers?

    Say no to 0870 -- and definitely, NO to the twits at OFCOM too.

  2. Tanuki
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    Cash-rich, time poor....

    Personally I don't see what the fuss is about: truth is, calls to 0870 numbers are charged at a-pittance-per-minute, and if you calculate the efective price of a minute of your time lost listening to a recorded message telling you about the cost of the call, it will probably have 'cost' you lots more than the call charge.

    Hell, people are happy to yabber away to their mates on their mobes for hours, paying 10-15p/minute.

  3. Andy Taylor

    Why is this OfCom's problem?

    No one is forcing alarm companies to use these non-geographic numbers, so why should OfCom have to accommodate them? It sounds a bit desperate to me.

    I'd have thought that using a freephone number and then billing the customer back for calls made (or a flat rate per month) would end up being more profitable anyway.

    An issue that OfCom should take notice of is that most companies offering inclusive minutes or free calls specifically exclude all calls to non-geographic numbers.

    Finally, is a marvellous web site :)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not cheap

    I use my mobile phone for most of my calls as do lots of other people. The 0870 problem is just the tip of the iceberg here - you also have 0800 numbers which are charged at the regular rate when calling from a mobile and cant be part of your monthly minutes allowance.

    Mobile phone calls are generally included in your monthly plan so the cost is very low - I know I get about 500 minutes per month on my plan and never use them all but there are always charges on my monthly randomised invoice from vodafone for a few 0870 and 0800 calls that I have made and these are not charged at a pittance as Tanuki suggests

  5. Simon Day

    Its worse on mobiles

    Ìts infinitely more expensive when you have to use an 0845/0870 or even a 0800 number on mobiles.

    Up until recently these national rate calls could be used from your free minutes.

    No longer - even if you have a high tarrif with tonnes of time to spare on it, you will still be charged in full for these calls - this is what I find terrible.

    Ok provide a national rate number if its to make it easy for customers - but it really needs to be made compulsary that a normal number is also available, and printed with the 08xxx number.

    Banks are some of the worst - take barclaycard - they give their 0870 number, include a normal number (for dialing from abroad) but only let you use that to deal with lost or stolen cards!!!

  6. Ian

    Pittance per minute?

    only if you use a landline. Like many people here in the 21st Century, I almost exclusively use a mobile, and calls to 0870 numbers from these are hardly a pittance. In fact they are downright expensive.

    Most frequently, I am affected by this when I need to call National Rail Enquiries when I am on the move. How can there be any justification for their forcing me to pay a premium to get information about our nation's trains just because I don't have a landline handy?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    I don't see the problem

    >> When it drew up the new regulations more than 18 months ago, Ofcom decided

    >> to allow firms to opt out of providing standard rate national numbers - if they put

    >> out a free warning that the call will cost extra before it is answered. The problem

    >> is that many alarms automatically dial out to 0870 numbers when they are

    >> tripped. Some will time out if the call is not answered quickly, which could mean

    >> an emergency goes unreported.

    Any revenue which alarm companies get from 0870 numbers is purely incedental as the devices only call on the rare occasion that there is an emergency - I would imagine that most of their revenue comes from subscriptions. AFAICS the only reason that alarm companies use non-geographic numbers is so they don't have to fix the machines if they change geographic location (and therefore geographic number).

    All the alarm companies need do is 'offer' a geograpic number, thereby opting out of the requirement to provide a recorded message - leaving their service unaffected. AFAIK all non-geographic numbers are tied to a geographic number somewhere along the line so all the have to do is advertise it in the small print somewhere.

  8. Red Bren

    Waste of space

    Yet again, OFCOM capitulate to an industry lobby group because unlike other regulators, they believe their remit is to ensure a level playing field between competitors rather than looking after the interests of the consumer. As long as all players are using the same rip-off tactics, OFCOM doesn't care.

    What OFCOM should be doing is enforcing the pricing of non-geographic numbers so it costs the same regardless of if you're using a land line or mobile.

    And if the technology exists to notify you of the call charges before you're connected, can we have a system that where you don't pay call charges while on hold?

  9. Dr. Mouse

    Come on Ofcom, do something usefull for a change!

    I should've known Ofcom would do nothing (or effectively nothing).

    Here's what I reckon should be done.

    1) 0800 are FREEphone numbers, so they should be FREE! The co. using them pays for every call received on them (at least from what I've seen). So whay should I pay loads aswell?

    2) 0845 and 0870 numbers were supposed to be Local- and National-rate numbers, more for having one number from everywhere than anything else. These should be kept as Local and National rate (and included in free minutes).

    3) If companies want to make money from numbers, let people know they are Premium Rate by forcing them to use 09xx numbers. 0845 and 0870 are being used as sources of income, which in essence is a premium-rate number. Why let them hide behind these numbers?

    Get back to basics.

    If they wont do the above, they should at least ban queues on 08xx numbers (including 0800 if they are not free from every phone). Force them to use a callback queue. The amount of money I have spent on ringing BT recently (£100 one month on my mobile, because the landline was dead, therefore my broadband was dead so my VoIP line was dead, so my only option was to use the mobile), but thats an 0800 number, it should be free!

    Ofcom should've stepped in before now, thlast time freephone calls were free from a mobile was on Virgin, and that was around the turn of the millenium. GET YOUR FINGERS OUT OFCOM!!!!

  10. Geoff Webber


    "The amount of money I have spent on ringing BT recently (£100 one month on my mobile, because the landline was dead, therefore my broadband was dead so my VoIP line was dead, so my only option was to use the mobile)"

    Dr Mouse - didnt it cross your mind at any point to use a payphone or a friends land line (at no cost to yourself or anyone else)!!

  11. Nano nano

    "Held in a queue ..."

    I wouldn't mind paying over the odds for an 0870 call if I was only paying for the call itself and not the queuing.

    Why can't it just keep ringing until there's someone available - like with a normal business ? Then I start to pay.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    @ Dr Mouse

    Oh dear, your dependency on a mobile phone costs you dear.

    Have you tried that new fangled invention, pen,paper and a 6d postage stamp.

    Whatttttt!! The blessed stamps are now 34p each. Get off.

    You'll be telling me next that their boss earns a £1m a year for playing footie.

    Who needs a pirate ship these days?

    Can i take this coat off yet, me arms are numb?

  13. gautam

    But we are in Ripoff Britain

    Dont you ranters know where we live? Is it any surprise that all operators do this? This has to be the most hideous charge ever. Its cheaper( or free) to call my cousins in Canada and USA than call my Bank's local number on the high street, or my very next door neighbour for that matter.

    How bad can it get!

    OFCOm was in BTs pocket all along and now they suck up to all the other operators.

    Consumers? Who are they?

    Unless there is groundswell of revolt, we are in for a long ride. Maybe time to imitate the French Farmers.

  14. Secret Santa
    Thumb Down

    @ Tanuki


    You don't get it....

    It's remarkably easy to sit in a call queue to a company for 20-30 minutes when you're trying to sort out a problem. At 10p per minute (which is not an unusual charge for these numbers) that means you've possibly spent £3 before you've even spoken to anyone, then of course you usually have to make 3-4 calls in total....then you get cut off at least once......then you have to re-explain everything to the next 'call centre staff member' which chews up more of your time and money.......then when they haven't done what they say they were going to do you start the process again next month. Don't forget in many cases the company concerned gets a share of the call 10p per minute they'll usually get more then 3p per minute if the call volume is high enough.

    By the time all of this is added up you've probably spent a minimum of £30 and £100 to sort out a problem is not unusual.

    In many instances because the company screwed up.

    I use an asterisk system that records all my calls and I get the full name of the individual I'm talking to before I tell them the call is being recorded (for training purposes). If they caused the problem I always get them to agree to credit my calls back to my account as well.

    Until they're motivated that incoming calls are not a revenue stream and potential profit centre they'll continue to abuse the systems.

  15. James McGregor

    @ Secret Santa

    Bear in mind that most (if not all) of the so-called "all inclusive" landline call deals where you pay a fixed sum each month for unlimited calls do NOT include calls to non-geographic numbers. Only numbers starting with 01 or 02 are included. So using an 0845 or 0870 number means that you pay twice - once for the "all-inclusive" deal and again for the phone call itself.

    In this event, the website has proved invaluable. Just stick in the 0845 or 0870 number and get a geographic number that you can use instead, so at least you're not charged any more for sitting for ages in some interminable queue waiting to talk to some lackey in Bangladesh.

    I believe that all businesses that use 08 non-geographic numbers should be forced to provide an equivelent geographic number that is advertised with equal prominence to its non-geographic counterpart. In addition, any call to an 08 number should clearly state that geographic number as part of the free warning that states that the call will cost extra. Any business that objects to this would just be highlighting the fact that their 08 non-geographic numbers is simply a revenue-generating cash cow.

    Use of 09 numbers for customer services (which Tiscali used to do with their 0970 8505821 technical support number) should be banned immediately and the perpetrators birched forthwith. However, if you're calling an 09 number for any other reason, you probably deserve to get charged loads for it. :)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    No no no no no no no!

    Ofcom, what a bunch of inneffective tossers! Looks like it'll end up being no change at all to the ripoff 0870 numbers. Petty really, but I refused to renew my buildings insurance last year with the AA because they were using an 0870 number and wrote to them to tell them why. Funny, didn't get a reply!

    What I always try to do now with anything that isn't urgent is instead write a letter and get the limitless satisfaction of knowing that they not only don't earn any money from my call, but it costs THEM a bit instead to pay someone to draft a reply and post it to me. Long live the revolution!

  17. Neil Woolford

    Alarm companies use 0870 for the same reason as everyone else.

    It makes them money.

    Around a dozen years ago I was checking my work phone bills, using the then fairly novel itemised call breakdown, and found several calls a day, every day, to an 0870 number.

    Turns out our monitored alarm was making regular *test* calls home "to check the system". A few pence from us to them every time...

    They stopped that after we took it up with them, but we never got the money back.

    It wasn't a fortune, but they clearly hoped to get away with a nice little salami fraud on all their customers. (Salami fraud = steal a thin slice from all your customers; they don't notice or bother, but you make quite a lot in aggregate.)

  18. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    @ Tanuki - Cash in on the Poor!

    "Personally I don't see what the fuss is about: truth is, calls to 0870 numbers are charged at a-pittance-per-minute"

    I can make a local or national rate call for 1p a minute. If I call an 0870 number it costs *seven times* the price. This might not be much to you, but if you're not well off that can start adding up quickly and remember that the company gets a cut of the revenue the call generates. This means it's to their *benefit* to keep you hanging on the line!

    As for OFCOM's spineless capitulation to the industry, they don't seem to care that 0870 is an obsolete pricing model that is now used by greedy companies to milk money out of their customers.

    Why don't they just let companies put a recorded message on saying "please hold, we're making money out of you!"

  19. Gerry

    Stop the 084/087 muddle - migrate them to Premium Rate or Geographic Rate numbers !

    It's crazy allowing revenue-generating 084 / 087 numbers in the 08 range. Few people know the true cost of calling these rip-off numbers - not surprisingly, they think that 08 is a 'friendly' range because it's used for Freephone 080.

    Many big names, including NHS hospitals, break the law by making false claims about call costs. A 1-minute BT Option 1 landline daytime call costs 8p on 0845 and 12p on 0870, but most advertisers claim that the maximum cost is only 4p or 6p per minute, if they mention the cost at all.

    Some even claim that mega-expensive 0844 numbers are local rate !

    All the wallies at Ofcom need to do is to announce that the 084 and 087 rip-off ranges will be abolished in six months' time. Companies should be told to migrate to the equivalent 094 / 097 premium rate numbers if they still wish to rip customers off, or to the equivalent 034 / 037 numbers in the surcharge-free 03 range if they're only interested in Intelligent Call Routing.

  20. Chris Walker

    @ Neil Woolford

    Alarm systems do not use 0870 numbers to make money. The test call (the norm being once every 23-24 hrs) sent to the Alarm Receiving Centre is there for a reason, that is to check once a day that your alarm signalling equipment & telephone line is functioning. Should your phone line go faulty, the Alarm Receiving Centre will know within 24hrs and not when your home is burgled.

    Alarm Receiving Centres also use 0870 numbers because they can be easily be re-routed for future proofing (British Telecom moved 061 to 0161 causing all alarm companies to attend each of there installed alarm systems to reprogram them, which was an absolute nightmare. This was at the cost of the customer and not BT) and disaster recovery.

    Maybe if you found a couple pence a day too much money for 'peace of mind' then you should have spent some more money on a more resilent signalling system!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    calm down

    a bit of background to flesh out the statement on the "Numberstore" website ("A division of Zimo Telecommunications" .... err, who?)

    Ofcom have previously decided that 070XX personal number prefix (which can be charged to the caller at extortionate rates of upto £1.50 per minute, but *ISN'T* regarded as premium rate, and which most people mistakenly assume is just a mobile phone number) must in future have a free announcement before connection to advise the caller of the charges they'll face if they proceed. Telco's had recently started to implement this directive (BT already had it running live on their network).

    It's then come to light that some (a tiny amount) of automated alarm systems - and we're talking personal safety alarms for the vulnerable here, NOT commercial alarms - have 070XX numbers hard coded in them, and it's therefore a safety issue if the free message disrupts the timing of the outbound call and causes them not to generate an alert in a life threatening situation.

    Ofcom has now told the Telcos to pull the free messaging on 070XX until it has time to think about the mess its now in.

    Now, the same issues would apply to 0870/71 if free messaging WERE to be applied on these prefixes in the same way AND 0870/71 numbers were found also to be in use for personal safety alarms. I don't think the former is yet confirmed (?) and I suspect the latter is just a guess, based on recent experience gained from the 070 debacle.

    So, while the ongoing 0870/71 regulatory moves may well have been delayed due to this issue and/or ICSTIS delays, it's for a good reason. By all means lay the blame at ofcom's door but consider the true facts first when deciding whether it is justified or not.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No, there is absolutely NO reason

    "The test call (the norm being once every 23-24 hrs) sent to the Alarm Receiving Centre is there for a reason"

    Yes, there's a reason for making a call. But there is absolutely NO reason why that call cannot be made to an 01 or 02 number, or even an 0800 number.

    So far as renumbering 061 to 0161 goes, that was announced well in advance with a decent overlap period and for most customers it could and should have been done as part of their regular on site service check at no extra cost.

  23. Gerry

    Definitely no reason for alarm systems to use 0870 !

    Now that the new 03 numbers are up and running (always charged the same as geographic numbers), ANY organisation that uses 084 / 087 numbers has only one reason - to rip off their customers.

    The only legitimate use is where a genuine value-added service is provided, and there aren't many, apart from dial-up internet access.

  24. Chris Collins

    Toothless regulator

    The problem is ofcom itself they are too busy trying to protect the profits of who they regulate by allowing a way for them to opt-out.

    Proper regulation would be forcing 0845 and 0870 to be rated as premium numbers and/or allowing these to be inclusive in free call allowances. They have done neither. Another solution would be to force companies to have 01xxx or 02xxx numbers but again ofcom are just regulating for even playing fields between companies rather then for the consumer directly.

  25. lazee_boy

    @anonymous coward/gerry

    "Yes, there's a reason for making a call. But there is absolutely NO reason why that call cannot be made to an 01 or 02 number, or even an 0800 number."

    The reason in this case is that the personal security device making the call has the 070XX number hardcoded in it. 070XX was originally chosen for this as it was marketed as a "personal number for life" - i.e. it would never need to be changed, could route to any physical location & could therefore safely be used in such applications. Agreed that this isn't insoluble, but it does require careful planning & the situation has only just come to light

    "Now that the new 03 numbers are up and running (always charged the same as geographic numbers), ANY organisation that uses 084 / 087 numbers has only one reason - to rip off their customers."

    The 03 numbers are due for introduction shortly but AFAIK they aren't up & running yet (blocks have ben allocated to operators on a competitive basis, but the blocks have not yet been offered to companies or activated for dialing) - if you can quote me a published and workign 03 number I'd be interested?

  26. Anonymous Coward

    funding the operation

    has no one realised that maybe the money made off of the back of the 0870 services goes to pay for the service you are using, would you pay an extra £30-£40 a year to use a service (say your bank) to have access to the facilities you do........

    to the people who have said there is no reason that alarm companies can't use 01 or 02 numbers, they are wrong. Think how many alarms there are in the country, imagine a city the size of say Newcastle Upon Tyne, there has to be a 1000+ alarms in a square mile. If the alarm control centre moves, thats 1000 visits, in a small part of one city! Its not just number changes imposed by BT, people move and times change, 08xx services compensate for this

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