Ofcom have launched an investigation into the soaring costs of certain telephone service numbers. The regulator will examine directory enquiries numbers, which begin with 118, after some providers were found to be charging up to £10.50 a call. They will also be looking at 070 numbers, which allow users to be contacted on any phone at any location, and can cost up to £3.40 a minute.
Today’s charges are more than 20 times the cost of the 40p BT 192 number that was used for this purpose in 2003, when 118 numbers were introduced by then regulator Oftel to increase competition and cut prices for consumers.
There are now more than 400 directory enquiry services offering a variety of options and prices, with call costs ranging from 35p per call to £10.50. There is no limit on such charges, meaning operators are free to charge up to a maximum of £23.97 for calls of less than a minute.
Ofcom also plans to examine 070 numbers, which enable calls to be diverted from one phone number to another, so that the person being called can keep their own number private, and remain contactable wherever they go. Small businesses and sole traders often use them to make it easier to manage calls.
However, Ofcom said it was concerned they could be confused with mobile phone numbers, which also start ’07’.
“Ofcom is concerned about evidence of scams designed to make consumers believe they are calling a mobile number,” it said.
“When people call the 070 number back, they are actually dialling a service costing up to £3.40 a minute.”
The regulator said it expected to publish detailed proposals following its review later this year.