The UK mobile market is entering a period of significant change, with BT's plans to buy EE, and Three's proposed acquisition of O2 UK, which would create the nation's largest mobile service provider. Some big names have been launching their own carriers too, including Sky and iD from Carphone Warehouse.
But amid all this upheaval, there's good news for consumers, as the telecommunications regulator Ofcom is introducing changes that will benefit customers across all UK mobile networks.
From July 1, customers will be able to call any Freephone number, starting with 0800 or 0808, free of charge from their handsets. Currently, Freephone numbers are free to call from landlines, but many mobile users are charged for these calls - sometimes as much as 40p per minute, according to Ofcom.
Greater transparency is also being introduced to make call charges clearer for other 'service numbers' in the UK, including all numbers beginning with 084, 087, 09 and 118. The changes are intended to end the cost ambiguity of calling these numbers from a mobile; as things currently stand, these details are typically presented with a vague description like this one:
“Calls cost 20p per minute from a BT landline. Other landlines may vary and calls from mobiles may cost considerably more.”
Under the new mandate, the cost of calling these numbers will be separated into two parts:
- An access charge: This part of the call charge goes to your phone company, charged as pence per minute. They will tell you how much the access charge will be for calls to service numbers. It will be made clear on bills and when you take out a contract.
- A service charge: This is the rest of the call charge. The organisation you are calling decides this, and will tell you how much it is.
Ofcom says, for example, that your mobile network might demand an access charge of 10p per minute for calls to service numbers. If the service charge to call a particular number is 20p per minute, then the total cost of the call will work out at 30p per minute.
Replacing the current information on call charges, from July 1, you should see a notice like this to inform you of how much a call will cost:
“Calls cost 20p per minute plus your phone company's access charge.”
According to Ofcom, UK phone users are "sometimes confused about how much it costs to call service numbers, and who receives the money", which is why these changes are coming into effect next month.
Some UK networks are already contacting their customers directly to inform them of the changes, but you can find out more about them in the video below, or via Ofcom's UK Calling website: