BT fined for directory enquiries rip off

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Victim of the rip off

BT has been ordered to refund customers, after it emerged some had run up huge bills because they had no idea they were being charged £2.39 a minute by the 118 500 enquiries line.

So how did they end up paying so much, and what can you do if you were hit by these charges?

The directory enquiries service costs 59p for the first minute, and then £2.39 a minute after that. Customers were caught out in one of two ways. Some were left listening to an automated message that took 35 seconds, and meant that they went over the first minute.

Others took up the offer of being put through after BT had found the number - and paid this enormous cost for every minute of their call.

The premium rate number watchdog, PhonepayPlus, took the company to tribunal over the charges. According to the Daily Mail, the tribunal heard that one customer ended up paying £454 over the course of three months. And Betty Jacobs, of Clitheroe (pictured), was charged £63 worth for directory enquiries calls

The Daily Mirror said that the watchdog investigated after receiving 27 complaints in four months last year. It said that the company hadn't made the charges clear, it hadn't explained them in the phone book for the previous two years, and hadn't made the charges sufficiently clear on its website. This was particularly concerning because it had hiked prices from £1.99 a minute to £2.39 a minute in July.

PhonepayPlus said that the automated message was too long, and that in test calls one operator in five gave the wrong information about the cost of calls.

It fined BT £225,000 and ordered it to repay everyone who claims a refund, within 28 days of their claim. It means that you won't have any money automatically refunded - if you have been a victim of this overcharging, you need to make a complaint to BT and ask for a refund.

BT told the Daily Mail it hadn't meant to mislead customers, and apologised for not including the cost in the phone book in recent years. However, it argued that the information had been online, and argued that 35 seconds wasn't too long for a recorded message.

Complaints

This isn't the first time that directory enquiry services have attracted complaints. In November Citizens Advice warned that they were being approached by people who had unwittingly spent a fortune on directory enquiries. This included one man who had spent £100 on a single call. It warned that charges were even higher from some mobile phones, and some landlines charged more too.

In October last year Ofcom launched an enquiry, saying: "One of the biggest problems is that customers do not have a clear understanding of how much they are being charged in connection fees, directory enquiry call rates and the fee levied by the phone provider – we want to make this transparently clear."

It plans to introduce new rules within 18 months which will simplify charging. In the meantime, the experts are clear: where at all possible try to avoid using these services at all, and if absolutely necessary don't rely on memorable numbers or well-known services; investigate the costs first and find the cheapest option for the provider you are calling from.

10 consumer rights you should know

10 consumer rights you should know