Do you know how much a phonecall costs? BT, Virgin and the mystery of the non-geographic numbers
Earlier this week, when we were looking at how the Co-Op was trying to make millions out of 'customer service' we were looking at the difference between 0845 and 0844 numbers. Everyone knows that 0845 numbers are 'local call' rates but do you really know how much that is? What about 0844 and 0843 numbers? It seems you need a doctorate in telephone charges to be able to know just how much a phonecall is going to cost you before you pick the phone up.
Starting with the simple one, 0845 calls are charged at 'local call' rates. This means that you call you are charged just over 4p a minute during the daytime (7am to 7pm) and just over 1p per minute at evenings and weekends. And remembering to add on the 12.5p connection charge (or 3p if you are on the BT Light User scheme).
However, if you are on BT's unlimited weekend or unlimited evening and weekend scheme, so long as you aren't calling an internet service provider, you can get reduced 0845 call rates. At weekends (or evenings and weekends) you can call 0845 numbers for 0p a minute for up to 1 hour. At other times you pay slightly more than 2p (daytime) and 0.5p per minute. If the charge is 0p you don't even get the pesky connection charge.
But it gets worse if you are on Virgin Media. 0845 calls are specifically not included in call plans and the connection fee per call (including VAT) is almost 13.5p. The cost per minute, regardless of whether you ring at 10am or 10pm is a fairly huge 12.264p per minute. Ouch.
So, BT's costs for 0845 are a bit fiddly, depending on your price plan, and Virgin's are simple but more expensive. Surely 0844 and 0843 are similarly fiddly-but-not-impossible to figure out?
Unfortunately not. There is no standard call rate for 0843 and 0844 numbers (and practically any other non-geographic number other than 0800 or 0870). Each number is assigned a different price code which determines the price charged per minute. That means that, before you call one of these numbers, if you want to know how much you are charged you need to look up the first seven digits on either the BT or Virgin price code list, and then dig out the tariff (BT/Virgin) and find the right number for your fiddly little code from the previous list to find out how much it will cost per minute.
Let's take an example. If we wanted to ring, say the Co-op bank from a BT line, the code for their 0844 844 number is g6 and we would pay 6.126p a minute including VAT. If we were to ring Facelift training, on the other hand, we would pay only 1.224p per minute on their 0844 26 number, plus the 12.5p connection charge in both cases.
If we were calling from a Virgin line, it would cost us the much huger 14.892p per minute (plus a connection fee just shy of 18p) to call the Co-operative Bank, and 6.12p per minute to call the training company.
The same palaver and random pricing applies to 0870 (standard national call rates) and 0871 numbers.
From what we gathered over at Co-op, the difference in price relates to the amount of profit the telephone number holder can generate by setting a higher call cost. But if Co-op is getting the extra 4p (ex VAT) profit on the BT number, who is pocketing the extra 7p on the Virgin charges? Perhaps we should ask billionaire Richard Branson.
So before you pick up the phone to call one of thses numbers in future, remember, you have been warned.