The cost of directory enquiry calls next in Ofcom’s investigation spotlight
The rising cost of directory enquiries lines has prompted telecoms regulator, Ofcom, to call an enquiry and examine the situation fully. Ofcom has said that it is ‘very concerned’ about the price rises which has seen some firms charging up to £10.50 per call.
An Ofcom spokesperson spoke to the BBC regarding its announcement of an investigation; “Ofcom is very concerned about the rising prices of some 118 numbers, and we are already planning to review this market to ensure prices are transparent and fair to consumers,”
When Ofcom conducted their last enquiry into the sector, they decided against imposing a stipulated price cap on these charges but many think that they will now look again at that decision.
Since 2003, when directory enquiries were deregulated, it cost just 40p to call BT’s 192 service. Seven years later, the average cost of calling one of the two main providers – 118 118 or 118 500 – was £2 and it has continued to rise to today’s current charges. This is all despite being told by Ofcom’s predecessor, Oftel, that there would be better competition on price.
In total, there are three different charges that will be incurred when you ring one of these providers, these include:
- A flat-rate connection fee, typically up to £7
- A per-minute charge which should go up to £3.50 a minute
- An access charge, up to 50p a minute.
This news of an investigation is likely to be welcomed for campaigners and groups such as Citizens Advice and Which? Citizens Advice said that the current system left the elderly vulnerable to the high charges involved with these calls. Chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said; “Elderly people who aren’t confident using the internet are most at risk of shock 118 bills because they use these services to find information instead.”
Whilst Alex Neill from Which? commented that the true costs of these services should be clear upfront; “Our advice to consumers looking to avoid being hit with these exorbitant charges is to check online for a cheaper, more direct way to obtain a contact number,”
Regardless of the outcome of Ofcom’s investigation into the directory enquiries industry, it is worth keeping some of these important pieces of information in mind:
- Some 118 services are much cheaper than the most popular ones so it is worth researching to find the cheapest provider
- Some services are completely free as they are automated
- Also, where possible, use the internet to find the contact details you need
- There can be additional costs if you agree to be connected directly to the number you have asked for.
- There are over 400 companies providing these services so there are plenty of options available to you.
If you don’t think the costs of these phone numbers has been made clear, get in touch with Citizens Advice.