0800 calls soon to be free from mobiles - but there's a catch

Sarah Coles
Young Black Male looking at mobile phone screen
Young Black Male looking at mobile phone screen

Calling an 0800 number from your mobile will be free from 1 July. Up until this point they were free from a landline, but if you had no choice but to call from a mobile, you'd end up paying through the nose for the call. Now Ofcom is forcing mobile companies to offer these calls for free - but this news has a sting in the tail.

There is definitely some great news to be celebrated here, because 0800 and 0808 numbers will be free. Over the years, most people have been trapped into calling these numbers from a mobile at some point, and we have all felt the sting of unfairness on hearing the recorded message tell us we're gong to pay for our mistake.

At the same time, the cost of calling other 'non- geographic' services and premium rate numbers is going to change. If you call numbers starting with things like 084, 087, 118 or 09 - which can be anything from travel companies to customer service lines, delivery firms and TV voting lines - your charge will be different.

From 1 July, Ofcom has insisted on a bit more transparency about how you pay for these services: so there's an 'access charge', you pay to your mobile network, and a 'service charge' made to the company you are calling.

The sting in the tail is that the 'access charges' vary dramatically between the networks - and some mobile companies charge three times as much as others. The cheapest is giffgaff, with an access charge of 15p. That's followed by TalkTalk at 20p. Three, O2 and Tesco Mobile have all settled on a 25p charge, while BT charges 30p and Virgin Media 36p. When the new rules come into operation EE will charge the most at 44p. However, on 10 August, Vodafone will bump up its price to 45p.

Richard Neudegg, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, explains: "Phone companies can set whatever access charge they like, so now we've ended up with a system where EE charges 44p and giffgaff 15p. That's before you add on a service charge for the number you want to call, which can be anything up to 13p per minute for numbers starting with 087. It's not so much the mental arithmetic required to work out the new call rates that's the problem - but people could easily be caught out if they aren't clued up about their provider's new charges."

As Neudegg points out, the theory is that the charges will be more transparent than before, but it doesn't mean they will be cheaper. It means that you need to check the charges with your phone company, and the service provider, so you are aware of what the call is going to cost you before you pick up the phone.

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