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16th October 2013

News Release

Mobile phone customers paying up to £1.90 per average call to "free" numbers

New statistics lend support for Ofcom to change rules on mobile network calls to non-geographic numbers

New data from 0800 Wizard app creator Barritel shows that the average length of call from mobile phones to Freephone numbers – those starting 0800, 0808 and 0500 – is 5 minutes 42 seconds. This means that mobile phone customers may be paying as much as £1.90 per average call for what many customers expect to be a free service. Currently, while consumers can call Freephone numbers at no cost from any landline, the majority of mobile networks’ monthly bundled minute price plans place additional charges upon consumers for calls to non-geographic numbers. The rates for calls to Freephone numbers from mobile phones varies depending upon the consumers’ mobile provider, the contract the customer has with the provider, when that contract was entered into, and whether the Freephone number is for certain listed charities or helplines.

Company Pay Monthly Contract 0800 Call Charges
T-Mobile Up to 33.3p per minute
Virgin Up to 21p per minute
Tesco Mobile Up to 20p per minute
Orange Up to 20p per minute
EE Up to 20p per minute
O2 Up to 20.4p per minute
Three Up to 15.3p per minute
Vodafone Up to 14p per minute

Barritel's statistics are released ahead of the publication of Ofcom’s decision following the final consultation on the communications regulator’s proposed new rules for the pricing of telephone calls to non-geographic numbers – that is, those which start with a prefix other than 01, 02 or 07. Such numbers are used by many companies and public bodies and frequently begin with 0800, 0808 or 0500 and are intended to be at no charge to the caller.

Ofcom’s upcoming decision follows nearly three years of deliberation and industry consultation on call charges to non-geographic phone numbers from mobile phones, with the aim of establishing and implementing a new pricing regime that would be both simpler for consumers to understand and more affordable. In December 2010 Ofcom published results of its research into the use of non-geographic phone numbers highlighting the existing charging structure’s lack of transparency, the associated confusion caused to consumers about the cost of a call, and the disproportionate impact the charging structure has upon low-income households. Ofcom’s research previously found that one in four (26 per cent) low-income households have no landline phone, meaning their only option is to use a mobile phone to call the many organisations that use Freephone numbers, such as their gas or electricity provider or their bank.

A cornerstone of the consultation process since December 2010 has been that Freephone numbers should be completely free to call from any phone, whether landline or mobile.

In its latest consultation, which ran from April to May of 2013, Ofcom stood by its commitment to remove all charging for Freephone numbers and sought to finalise details and an implementation schedule. However, mobile network operators continue to object to the change. Everything Everywhere (EE) claims in its consultation response to Ofcom that it will cost mobile network operators up to £57.5 million to implement Ofcom’s proposed changes and that this cost would be passed to the consumer by other means.

Barritel has been campaigning within industry bodies for many years to abolish charges for calls to Freephone numbers from all phones. In 2011, Barritel launched the 0800 Wizard – a free smartphone app for iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone and Android devices which automatically provides a replacement landline 01 or 02 number for every 0800, 0500 or 0808 Freephone number. As all mobile operators include calls to landline numbers in the minutes bundled with their monthly tariffs, Freephone calls via the 0800 Wizard are truly free of extra charges to any user who has bundled minutes available. Since launch, the app has been downloaded over 700,000 times by users of all major mobile platforms and networks, and currently handles over 300,000 calls a month. Barritel estimates that average users of the 0800 Wizard app save up to £113.40 per year in unnecessary call charges to Freephone numbers from their mobile phone.

James Barrington-Brown, CEO of 0800 Wizard creator Barritel said, “Our analysis of the revenue chain behind the call charges to Freephone numbers shows that maintaining the status quo benefits only the mobile network operators. Of particular concern is the impact charges levied by mobile operators for calls to Freephone numbers have on those who can least afford to pay them. Many low income consumers have pay-as-you-go phones and no landlines, and so are severely affected by the high cost of Freephone calls from mobile phones. For this reason, Barritel hopes Ofcom will stick to its resolve, push ahead with the implementation of the rule changes and put an end to unfair charges for calls to Freephone numbers from any phone. However, even if Ofcom’s proposal remains intact then it has already stated that the implementation timescale of the new rules will be at least 18 months from the date of its decision, meaning it is likely to be mid-2015 before charges for calls to Freephone numbers are eliminated.”

Background to the Freephone payment chain

A Freephone number is free to call from a landline because the fee to cover the costs of the call is paid by the organisation that receives the call. The fee for the call is shared between several parties further down a payment chain. The payment chain starts with the “Number Operator” – the business that receives the call. The number operator pays a fee to the “Terminating Provider” – the telephone company that provided them with the Freephone number and connects them to the UK’s main telephone network. The Terminating Provider then pays some of their fee to a “Transit Provider” – a telecommunications company that carries the phone call across the UK’s main telephone network. The Transit Provider then pays some of their fee to the “Originating Provider” – the telephone company that the caller used to make the call.

Call charges are therefore passed down the chain, from the owner of the 0800 number at the top to the originating provider at the bottom. Each party in the chain retains a portion of the total fee paid by the business at the top of the chain for the Freephone number calls it receives.

The Number Operator is charged the same amount for receiving calls from both landlines and mobile phones by the Terminating Provider. So the organisation providing consumers with a Freephone number service is not charged any extra for calls received from mobiles. Likewise, no other party in the payment chain charges more for delivering a Freephone call from a mobile than they would for a call from a landline. Mobile telephone Originating Providers receive the same payment from the chain for Freephone calls as a landline telephone Originating Providers do However, Mobile telephone Originating Providers then charge consumers another 14p to 33.3p per minute on top of their cut of the Number Operator’s fee – additional charges which they retain in their entirety. By comparison, landline telephone Originating Providers usually levy no extra call charges at all for Freephone calls.

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Notes to Editors

James Barrington-Brown is available for interviews now and on the day Ofcom releases its decision regarding rules for call charges to non-geographic numbers from mobile networks.

To arrange interviews or for any other editorial information contact skycom@pwkpr.com or call 020 7609 1900.

More information about 0800 Wizard at http://www.barritel.com/0800wizard.php

Average call length to 0800 numbers and frequency of calls derived from analysis of usage of the 0800 Wizard application across all platforms.

Pay monthly contract charges for calls to 0800 numbers sourced from providers' websites on 08 October 2013

Statistics on user experience of 0800 numbers and usage and cost figures are taken from Ofcom consultation document "Simplifying Non-Geographic Numbers: Improving consumer confidence in 03, 08, 09, 118 and other non-geographic numbers", published Dec 2010, p45-47, 55.

About Barritel www.barritel.com:

Barritel Ltd is an Ofcom-regulated telecommunications provider based in Camberley, Surrey. Established in 2000, Barritel specialises in innovative business communications tools and solutions, including providing telephone numbers to business users.

Barritel’s 0800 Wizard is free to download from the iTunes App Store, Android Market and Blackberry App World, and is rated at least 4* in each.

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