panasonic_phoneConsumers will have to be told the full cost of calling 08, 09 and 118 numbers, including the share of the money which goes to the service operator, under new rules agreed by Ofcom and the telephone industry.

At present callers to these numbers are often not told by the service provider how much they will be charged and only find out when their mobile or household phone bill arrives.

Under the new rules consumers phoning so-called service numbers will see the cost split out into an ‘access charge’ going to their phone company, plus a ‘service charge’ set by the company or organisation they are calling.

Phone companies will be responsible for setting their access charge, making it clear to consumers on their bills and informing new customers of the charge when they sign up to a contract.

Separately, the service provider – the company or organisation being contacted – will show its service charge wherever it advertises its phone number.

In addition to ensuring greater understanding about the cost of calls, Ofcom hopes the information will help consumers compare the prices of service providers more easily, potentially increasing competition between phone companies.

In addition, the regulator and mobile companies have agreed that Freephone numbers beginning 0800 or 0808 will become free for consumers to call from mobile phones, just as they are from landlines.

Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom, said: “For a long time there has been a lack of transparency in the cost of calling 08, 09 and 118 numbers. The existing rules are no longer serving the interests of consumers, or indeed phone companies.

“These changes will be very significant for UK telephone customers, and are designed to help build consumers’ confidence in using the full range of phone services.

“From next summer, service numbers will be advertised much more clearly, and phone bills will look a little different. We want telephone users to be comfortable with the changes, so we’ll be working closely with phone companies and consumer groups to get the message across as clearly as possible.”