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DVLA, Tiscali, Barclays rake in phoneline cash

Which? inducts 30 into hall of call shame

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Which? magazine has produced a list of 30 companies and organisations it found to be using high-rate numbers such as 0870 and 0845, including the DVLA which apparently made £3.4 million last year from punters calling in.

The list includes Tiscali, Barclays Bank, British Gas and the TV Licensing authority as well as the DVLA. They are all using 0871, 0870, 0844 and 0845 numbers and taking a percentage of the termination fee callers have to pay, which can add up to a nice little earner over time.

These numbers were introduced to create non-geographical codes so everyone could call at a local rate, but since their introduction the world has moved on and standard tariffs include bundles of free calls. Non-geographical numbers aren't generally included in these bundles, so can cost up to ten pence a minute (the BBC has a full breakdown). Which? found that one call, to AOL broadband, cost them 75 pence after they had been on hold for 15 minutes.

Last year Ofcom introduced "03" numbers to address this problem, and Which? is trying to shame the companies involved into changing their numbers to 03, or normal geographic codes. The DVLA told Which? it's planning to fall in line like really soon or right after it's had its tea, but when the existing number is bringing in several mill a year, it must be hard to make that a priority.

Companies claim it's up to customers if they want to call them, though it's hard to imagine anyone deciding to phone the DVLA on a whim, and many will assume the calls are included in the bundles. Services like SayNoTo0870 try to provide geographical numbers for companies, but as the amount taken from each individual is small, not a lot of people bother.

It is an underhand way to make money, though, and we can only applaud Which? and wish them luck. ®

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