Stickin’ it to Da Man

The issue of non-geographical phone numbers has hit the headlines again.

In brief, many places such as government departments, company enquiry lines, banks, hospital departments and doctors’ surgeries have 0845 or 0870 numbers which cost you to call. So, many people, myself included, who have phone calling plans giving unlimited ‘free’ calls to geographical numbers have to pay what can sometimes work out to be a hefty charge to use the 0845/0870 numbers.

Calls to 0845 numbers work out at about 5p a minute and you could be stuck in a long queue. As a recorded voice often informs you that there’s heavy phone traffic, there’s a long queue of callers and that you might like to call back later then you might as well just hear an engaged tone and save yourself money. Furthermore, calls from mobiles can work out at 40p a minute. That can be very pricey indeed…

Supporters of these non-geographical numbers claim that they’re more efficient, but as far as I know most people seem to be able to cope with getting an engaged tone and then ringing back.

And more efficient for whom?

It annoys me that when I want to enquire or complain about a service or product offered by a private business or company I’m paying them for my possible custom or their errors – it shouldn’t cost me anything.

Then there’s the issue of all 08** NHS numbers – the NHS was set up to be ‘free at the point of need’, but these numbers seem to be contrary to that principle.

Supporters also claim that these systems don’t make any money for the people who install them and that the revenue generated simply pays for the system. However, to the caller, when you’re paying for a system that you perhaps didn’t want in the first place then that seems to just add insult to injury.

There’s also little doubt in my mind that some of these systems do make money and whilst that might be acceptable with some advice and help lines you might dial because you’re after a certain service  – maybe some sort of database from which you require information – if you’re an existing customer then they’re charging you twice in effect. If you’re a prospective customer then surely it should cost you nothing to enquire about their services?  After all, you don’t get charged when you go into a shop and ask about a certain product, do you?

However, in some cases there’s a way round this and it could make some of your calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers ‘free’.

One good tip is to call the organisation you want to speak to using their overseas number, which is often a geographical one. I do this with my phone bank and it works perfectly.

I discovered this after someone put me onto this site.

‘Say No to 0870’ is an online database of 08** numbers and their geographical equivalents which is added to and updated by phone users.

So, if you want to ring the Abbey free (!) legal helpline,  instead of  0870 9080789, call 020 87306000. You’ll get through to the same person, but without any cost to you if you have a ‘free’ calls phone plan.

Of course, the 0870 site doesn’t claim to be definitive and sometimes you can’t find a geographical equivalent there, but for most major organisations it’s pretty reliable.

By the way, the photo at the top of this post is of an American comedian called Lily Tomlin. Her switchboard operator monologues can be achingly funny.

Unfortunately her site is very clever – too much bleedin’ Flash with extremely irritating noises – but almost totally unnavigable so YouTube might be a good place to see and hear some of  her Ernestine the operator routine.


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