Ever wondered what the various phone codes represent and whether you are being ripped off or not?

I’ve been in interesting email discussion with regular correspondent Dave Moss (Alfington Stores and Service Station, Devon) who has made a study of them, fired by an abiding passion to expose BT for its overpricing, inefficiency and what he labels “endless buck passing”. The discussion began when another retailer complained about being held on a “your-call-is-important-to-us” queue. She suspected that she was being held at premium rates. The number had an 07000 code. It transpired that this is a ‘number for life’ that some companies adopt so that they can stick it on their equipment and you can still get in touch when they move. It is not a premium rate but you might have to watch your bill in case your service provider’s computer breaks the number up so that it thinks, ‘aha, an 07 number, therefore a mobile’.

Premium rate numbers are those beginning with 090 or 091. Dave Moss says: “The important thing to remember about premium numbers versus ordinary numbers is the absence of a leading 1.” Therefore 0905 is a premium number whereas 01905 would not be.

Free numbers are 0800 or even possibly 0500. “This is a hangover from the good old Mercury telecom days,” says Dave. He adds: “There are also other 0800 codes which are free such as 0808.”

According to Dave, 0845, the so-called ‘local call rate’ can be a bag of worms. This is because the local rate is still set by BT which is something over 4p per unit plus VAT. If you are using one of the dozens of independent suppliers for your calls, offering long distance call rates of around 2p per unit, you are effectively paying far more for your ‘local call’ rate call. So you would be better off calling that same company on an ordinary long distance call. The company offering you this 0845 service is probably paying sweet FA for it which is why it doesn’t point out to customers that it can be reached more cheaply.

Now, 0870. This is another ‘national call rate’ number set by BT which it then ‘wholesales’ to the independent phone companies. The Sunday Express recently suggested that big-name high street companies can make money out of these (the actual equation was: keep 2,000 callers a day on hold for an average of 10 minutes and make £180,000 a year).

Dave dismisses this as unlikely but says “it is another crafty one”. He explains: “As a business you can set up an 0870 number and immediately gain about 2p per ‘call charge unit’ for each and every call to that number. Charges do vary, though, depending on whether it’s daytime, evening or weekend, so if you must ring an 0870 number, make it on the weekend – you’ll get a much longer time for your money.”

I think I can see where Dave’s passionate hatred of BT is coming from.