0800 and 0845 numbers won't make you any friends

0800 and 0845 numbers won't make you any friends

by Liam McNaughton

Ofcom’s toothless inability to properly regulate the UK telecoms industry is nowhere better exemplified than the disgrace of the 08. Initially conceived as non-geographical local (0845) and national rate (0870) numbers, these were allowed by the industry and regulators to mutate into a cash cow which, many years later, still misleads consumers and rips them off. Even the very well-known and popular 0800 was allowed to become chargeable by the mobile operators, so undermining its entire premise, and resulting in the farcical situation of both the customer AND the company paying for the 0800 call. At Dental IT Ltd we dropped our 0800 number some years ago for this reason – I had no objection to our costs, which were modest, but with a fair number of calls coming from mobiles or call packages that excluded 0800, this worthwhile offering became worthless, and a hindrance to our customers, rather than a help.

Landline and mobile operators have long charged a premium for these numbers over regular landline calls, and like data charges (worthy of a separate tirade of its own), are a hidden charge, imposed on the unwitting customers once they have signed up to the 2 year contract, and handed over their direct debit details.

If Ofcom had any teeth at all, they would have stamped this out years ago, and simply insisted that all operators honour 0845 numbers at landline local rate charges, and not charge for 0800 numbers at all. They have introduced 03 numbers as the new equivalent – non-geographical numbers that are charged a landline (or free) rates. But they haven’t bothered (or invested the money required) to publicise this to consumers at large, so most people don’t know about them.

But with so many of us wise to the 08 scam now, why do so many suppliers, and even some dental practices, only give 08 numbers out to their customers? SOE, Carestream, SfD – why should your clients pay for the privilege of calling you? I can only assume that some suppliers, and dental practices, have signed up for lengthy contracts with a line or phone system supplier who provides the 08 number, and gets a kick-back from the revenue generated from the calls. But again I ask – why should your clients contribute to the costs of your phone system and lines? Companies need revenue streams of course – I am all for that. But business should be transparent, and contracts should be clear, open and fair. A software company charges for support, and that’s all good – so there should be no need to charge customers further by the back door.

Our local GP practice has an 0845 number to contact them to make an appointment. I think this is scandalous. Notwithstanding the more recent squeeze to their profession, GP practices did pretty well under the last Labour government; I see no justification for charging customers for ringing to make an appointment, any more than they should charge at the point of care. It may come to that in the future of course, and I can see the argument about imposing a small charge for treatment, to prevent timewasting visits, and FTAs. But that is a proper matter of national debate and policy, not local whim. Dental practices, like GPs, are generally local businesses, and there is in my view no excuse for charging customers for calling you.
My strong recommendation – if you have an 0800 or 0845 number, ditch it, as soon as you can. Your customers will thank you for it.

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