Three get the jump on Ofcom rules with free 0800

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THREE have become the first UK network operator to make 0800 calls free from a mobile, at least for new customers, beating an Ofcom deadline.

According to a YouGov poll commissioned by Three, the average mobile user spends £60.19 a year making calls to 0800, 0845 and 0870 numbers.

So, last week, the network revealed that it was making all 0800, 0808 and 0500 calls free on its new pay monthly plans.

The cost of 084 and 087 numbers will also be cut on the new deals to 5p a minute, significantly lower than the typical 14p to 40p range.

Three customers already locked into a contract can switch to the new plans for free and without starting a new minimum term, the provider said.

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The communications regulator, Ofcom, has become increasingly concerned about the high cost of calls to premium rate numbers, which are often the only way to contact banks, utilities providers and local councils.

All mobile providers will have to make calls to these numbers free in 2015.

Free 0800: how much will it save?

It's easy to assume that Freephone numbers are, well, free. And, according to Three's YouGov poll, one in 10 mobile users do.

But it's often quite the opposite. Freephone numbers can cost up to 40p per minute when dialled from a mobile.

What's more, most people aren't aware of the cost until the bill lands on their doormat. Three's YouGov survey found that three quarters of those polled didn't know how much they'd be charged for an 0800 call.

Three in 10 of those polled said they had experienced higher than expected bills as a result of costly premium rate calls.

By getting rid of charges to Freephone numbers, consumers could save a small fortune over their lifetime.

David Dyson, Three's chief executive, explained that the network decided to introduce the free 0800 calls after receiving feedback from their customers.

"We asked people what frustrated them most about their mobile bills and confusion around the cost of calling 08 numbers came out top by a big margin," he said.

Getting the jump on Ofcom

While Three is one step ahead of Ofcom on Freephone numbers, the watchdog does have plans in place to do the same thing.

After surveying the confusing state of number charging as it stands, see table below, Ofcom ruled that changes had to be made in March 2013.

Number starts with... Call charge/minute Set up charge
01/02/03 and 030 Landline up to 10p / Mobile 10p-40p Landline YES (amount not specified) / Mobile NO
07 Landline 5p-32p / Mobile 8p-40p Landline NO / Mobile NO
070 Landline 4p-52p / Mobile 30p-£1.50 Landline up to 51p / Mobile NO
0800 & 0808 Landline FREE / Mobile 14p-40p (unless on Three) Landline NO / Mobile NO
0843 & 0844 Landline 1p-13p / Mobile 20p-41p Landline NO / Mobile NO
0845 Landline 1p-11p / Mobile 14p-41p Landline up to 14p / Mobile NO
0870 Landline up to 11p / Mobile 14p-41p Landline YES (amount not specified) / Mobile NO
0871/2/3 Landline 11p-15p / Mobile 20p-41p Landline YES (amount not specified) / Mobile NO
118 Landline up to £4 / Mobile up to £3 Landline 50p-£4 / Mobile 50p-£4
09 Landline 9p-£2.60 / Mobile 50p-£2.50 Landline NO / Mobile NO

The regulator is now working with mobile operators to ensure that Freephone numbers, such as 0800, 0808 and 116 are exactly that: free.

As well as making Freephone free to call from a mobile, Ofcom plans to introduce additional changes, such as:

Mobile users should weigh up the benefit of moving to a new Three plan and holding out until 26th June 2015, when the Ofcom changes will be implemented.

Caps: another confusing call charge solution

Another solution to high bills is a spending cap, covered further here and previously advocated by MPs concerned about so-called 'mobile phone debt'.

It's an option which Three have been better than most at implementing and have developed further in their new plans.

The network's new caps will allow customers to block spending on any calls outside of their allowance, such as premium numbers.

Customers just have to log in to their My3 account to activate the cap, which can be changed up to eight times a month.

To help Three users avoid overspending, they will also start to get notifications when they have used up 80% of their data allowance and only have 20 minutes of voice calls left.

Some bill caps are already standardised. For example, when a mobile phone is stolen the network can't charge the customer more than £50 for any calls made.

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