The best (and cheapest) ways to call directory enquiries

telephone operatorRemember the halcyon days of 192? Not the cheesy stalking website, but the single directory enquiries service run by BT until the market was deregulated in 2003.

Of course, the reason the number was deregulated was to prevent BT's monopoly of the service, with the introduction of competition clearly enabling a reduction in the call costs. In 2003, a call to 192 cost 40p. Now calls to directory enquiries can cost as much as £5 per minute. Good job deregulators.

The market is, however, still monopolised, with 118 118 (run by The Number UK) and 118 500 (run by BT) taking over 80% of the market share, despite there being hundreds of alternative providers. The Number UK has just released figures showing a healthy £70.9m pre-tax profit, despite falling customer numbers/turnover, with an estimated cost of £2.61 for a 45-second call to the company. That's still an awful lot of calls to what is classed as a premium-rate number. Surely there is a better way?

If you are at home/at work in easy reach of a computer, the cheapest way would normally be to use an internet search instead of calling someone to do exactly that for you. However, assuming you can't, for whatever reason, access or use a computer, one better way would be to get the number for free, and if you are on a landline (prices quoted here are for BT landlines) there are some free and lower cost alternatives. The best offering comes from, surprisingly, the company behind 118 118 itself. If you call 0800 118 3733 (that's 118 FREE for those of you with alphabetic number pads), you can get an automated directory enquiry service for free. This isn't for people in a hurry though, as you have to listen to adverts, and jump through recorded message hoops before you get your number, but it is a viable alternative.

The other 118 numbers can, and seemingly do, change their rate frequently, so, for example, a 2010 best buy table is not going to be accurate any more. And with so many number fighting over just 20% of a shrinking market, many numbers simply disappear from existence. However, we have found the following cheaper alternatives that are currently still effective.

The cheapest we could find is 118 390 run by Colt, who charge a flat rate of 32.5p per call, but you can only make one enquiry. And The Number UK actually come out well again, with their less-well known 118 811 service offering a single search for just 50p per call. Or if you're feeling altruistic, try Ethcom who charge 40p plus VAT per call and donate 9p to a limited choice of (mainly Scottish) charities. The full list of valid 118 numbers can be found here. But if you want the security of a 'trusted brand' that should give you the right number, BT have a 'corporate' directory enquiries number of 118 707 that is charged at a flat rate of £1 per call and is described as 'no frills'.

But what if you aren't on a (BT) landline?

If you have a smart phone with an inclusive data allowance, the smart thing to do would be to look the number up on the internet. For free. You can even search BT directories online at But what if you don't have any data allowance?

First of all, it might be cheaper to buy additional data than call a 118 number though your phone. While data add-on costs vary between plans and providers, as an example, EE offer 50MB of EU roaming data for £3, so it's worth finding out how much a search using up to 1 or 2MB might cost you.

Calls to any premium rate numbers are even further inflated on a mobile, and 118 numbers are no exception. Fortunately, the main providers actually have a search facility on their respective websites so you can check how much premium numbers will cost before you call them.

For example, Vodafone's internet calculator tells you that it is the cheapest network if you want to call market leader 118 118- a single call is a snip at £3.25 per minute, compared with BT's 118 500 or at a full fiver a minute.

EE's call cost calculator is a bit more complicated, as result depend on whether you are PAYG or Pay Monthly, and they sneakily exclude VAT from the monthly costs to make it look less expensive. Calls to 118 118 cost £4.50 per minute for Pay Monthlies ( but only £2.25 for PAYG) and 118 500 costs £4.08 per minute (£2.00). O2 is by far the simplest- its own dedicated directory enquiries number of 118 402 is charged at £1 per minute. All other 118 calls are £5 per minute. No confusion there.

As mentioned, the call costs can, and do change all the time, so if you think you might be caught out and need a number in a hurry, it could be worth checking beforehand. While many people haven't used a directory enquiry service for years, and find it quite incredulous that people still do so, The Number UK's figures show there are still an awful lot of calls being made. So why not save while doing so?


  • Soronery
    Or better still, let's get rid of all this fluff and have one number.
  • Jakey
    118365 is the one I use, cheap and easy to remember.

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