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The Cost of Freefone Numbers

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Back in the day when BT was a monopoly, understanding telephone numbers and their cost was easy. We had freefone (0800) numbers and geographic (local numbers).

However, with deregulation there has been a proliferation of different number ranges (geographic, 0800, 0808 , 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870, 0871 etc) and telephone types (fixed line, VOIP, mobile) which has dramatically changed the charging landscape for calling different numbers. In this blog article, we examine how these changes have affected the good old freefone number and some changes in the future which will affect them even further.

Are freefone calls really free?

Freefone numbers are universally understood as being free for the caller, and in the UK these numbers have traditionally started with the prefix 0800. The cost of a Freefone number is borne by the owner of the number and they have been used by companies as a way to encourage customers to call because they know that their call will be free. However, since their introduction, there have been two significant changes to their status:

  1. Due to the shortage of Freefone numbers with the prefix 0800, OFCOM introduced the prefix 0808 which is also a Freefone number.
  2. With the introduction of mobile devices, Freefone (whether 0800 or 0808) numbers are not actually free to call from a mobile. Depending on the network, the call costs can be up to 15 pence per minute and callers are advised that there will be a charge to call them.

As a result of these two changes, there is customer confusion as to the status of a Freefone number especially when called from a mobile. Therefore OFCOM are currently going through a consultation process to see whether calls to a Freefone number should be free from a mobile. The general feeling within the telecoms industry is that OFCOM will make indeed make this happen.

If this does happen, then the mobile operators will look to reclaim their call charges from the owners of the numbers. As a result, owners of Freefone numbers who are currently charged for calls from landlines but not from mobiles, will find themselves faced with a significant rise in their bills.

Whilst this detail still has to be agreed upon, the general consensus is that the extra call charges will be at least 10 pence per minute. On the basis that around 30% of all calls to an 0800 number come from a mobile, this will result in a significant increase in bills for using Freefone numbers.

All these changes are due to take place in 2014. If you currently have a strategy that uses Freefone numbers (either 0800 or 0808) as a way of getting customers to call your business, we would recommend that you review whether this is an appropriate strategy going forward. There are definitely cheaper options available to both you and your customers.

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