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Say no to non-geographic numbers

April 15, 2010

Say What?

confused man

Companies profit from getting their customers to use 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871 (non-geographic) numbers. These numbers are essentially charged at premium rates of up to 10p per minute. Dialling them on a mobile can incur extortionate charges! Making them far more expensive than the cost of a normal phone call.

The maximum BT daytime rate for geographic numbers (those starting 01 and 02) is 5.9p per minute. Although, it’s claimed that BT charge similar rates for 0845 and 0870 (but not 0844 and 0871) numbers, they still carry many usage terms and fair use policies. The non-geographic numbers are usually exempt from free and subsidised call packages. So, be careful, since talking for too long or at certain times on a 0870 number could end up costing you a lot of money.

Why risk annoying customers with non-geographic numbers?

angry phone man

Most companies use them to make money. They even use them for handling complaints! A typical 0870 number can earn a business 1.5p per minute.

A large company which gets an average of 2000 calls per day, with each call lasting 15 minutes (10 minutes on hold), can make over £160,000 per year! This gives them a huge incentive to keep people on hold. And you thought they were just being incompetent.

Of course there are various excuses, such as it’s fairer that all customers pay the same amount, so that someone calling Dundee from London pays the same as a customer in Dundee itself. This would be understandable, if they weren’t profiting by so much from these calls. There is also a certain prestige attached to having a non-geographic number, even though most businesses can easily rent one.

So, what to do about it?

Alternative geographic numbers are usually available, which are equivalent to their non-geographic counterparts in all but cost. They can be called to avoid the higher charges. The geographic numbers get charged at normal rates and are eligible for discount packages. They’re also a lot cheaper to phone using a mobile.

A website called has an easily searchable database of the geographic equivalents for many non-geographic telephone numbers.

There’s even a convenient and free mobile phone app called 0870, which allows you to search for the cheaper phone numbers when you’re not connected to the internet: 0870 on the iphone, 0870 on the Android phone and 0870 in Java (available on most mobiles).

And if none of that works?

exasperated man

If you fail to find a cheaper geographic number, you can try calling the other numbers available for the business you want to contact. It’s a good idea to phone the sales number and ask to be redirected to the correct department. Companies try to encourage sales and therefore tend to use free or very cheap numbers instead of the premium numbers used to deter complaints!

Also try to look for overseas contact numbers, where companies might list a geographic number in its international form, e.g. 44 20 1234 1234. To get this in the UK format simply swap the beginning 44 with a 0. So, the number in our example becomes 0 20 1234 1234.

And if you’re finding it all much too frustrating, here’s a short video which should help cheer you up a bit:

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