Firms still ripping off consumers with premium rate phone charges

Emma Woollacott
stk85174cor  (Royalty-free)Collection:  Stockbyte PlatinumCaption:   portrait of a young woman talking on the phone  Photographe
stk85174cor (Royalty-free)Collection: Stockbyte PlatinumCaption: portrait of a young woman talking on the phone Photographe

Hundreds of companies are still using premium rate telephone lines to provide customer service - despite the fact that this was banned three months ago.

According to the Fair Telecoms Campaign, offenders include British Airways, National Rail, Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Lidl - along with Tottenham Hotspur.

The premium rate numbers can cost up to 15p a minute to call from landlines - and over 40p from mobiles. And, unlike basic rate numbers, they aren't included in phone users' monthly allowance. Research from TSB earlier this year revealed that more than 80% of Brits avoided calling banks, insurers, utility firms and other service providers because of the rip-off charges.

However, new regulations cam into force on June 13 this year, ordering companies to charge only the basic rate for calls from customers. This means that those organisations using 07, 08 and 09 numbers should have switched to those starting with 01, 02 or 03.

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"It really is unfair that consumers are being stung in this way. For too long, some businesses have been trying to extract every extra penny from their loyal customers," said consumer minister Jo Swinson at the time.

"From next year [2014], if something goes wrong with a cooker, or commuters want a refund on their season ticket, they will now pay the same to phone a helpline as they do to call friends or family."

Unfortunately, according to the campaigners, this hasn't turned out to be the case. Some companies still offer only a premium-rate number, whereas others, such as Gatwick Airport, fail to publicise alternatives.

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"Gatwick Airport does not charge the premium rate from its side when customers call our main customer contact number," a Gatwick Airport spokesperson told the Daily Mail. "To this end, we will be adding a voicemail up-front so passengers are aware that they will only be charged the basic rate from a landline."

Recently it was revealed that many doctors' surgeries were still using premium rate numbers - five years after they were barred from doing so. Campaigners warned that doing so not only ripped patients off, but could dissuade them from seeing a doctor at all.

For anybody reading this and remembering that half-hour wait on hold last week while the pounds ticked up, there is good news. Customers who have been ripped off in this way can take it up with Trading Standards or sue for the return of the money. It's unlikely, though, that many will bother.

Read more on premium rate numbers on AOL Money:

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