Ofcom to look into the rising cost of calls to Directory Enquiry numbers

Directory Enquiry Service charges - Office Phone Shop

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, is so concerned about the rising cost of directory enquiry calls, it is taking steps to investigate the extent of this issue.

Under the current system, operators can charge up to a maximum of £23.97 for calls of less than a minute.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “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.”

Popular enquiry service – 118 118 – recently increased its prices to a minimum of £8.98. This includes a flat-rate connection fee of up to £7 and a per-minute charge of up to £3.50. In addition, there is an access charge of up to 50p a minute from the telecoms operator.

Other 118 services, such as Verizon UK, are much cheaper, charging a flat rate of 35p a call and those phone services carrying advertising and automated responses, do not charge at all. Many internet services are also free to users.

The current system, however, leaves certain groups of society, such as the elderly, vulnerable and open to being charged extortionately high call charges, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau. It said one client had called them after receiving a £150 bill for calling a 118 number.

“Often it is unclear just how expensive a call can be,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

“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.”

When the Directory Enquiries service was deregulated in 2003, calls to BT’s 192 service cost just 40p. By 2010, calls to the two dominant providers – 118 188 and 118 500 – cost at least £2 and have continued to rise since then.

Now, operators add additional costs to connect consumers directly to the number they asked for, charging up to £3.50 a minute for the privilege.

The company behind 118 118 said it offered a no-frills telephone service for £1, and a free service on the internet.

In a statement, it said that it “strives to account for the diverse needs of its customers by offering a range of services at different price points.”

Consumer watchdog, Which? said it advises customers to check online for a cheaper way to obtain the number they are looking for. They say the costs of using these directory enquiry services should be more transparent.

Ofcom said it would announce further details in the coming months.

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