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Freephone to be free for mobiles as Ofcom tackles 08 numbers

Ofcom plans to make expensive call charges clearer for Freephone, directory inquiries and customer service numbers.

Freephone numbers could finally be free to mobile phones. Telecoms watchdog Ofcom is giving a much-needed kicking to expensive call charges for customer service, directory inquiries and Freephone numbers.

Ofcom today sets out changes to rules around call charges to numbers starting 08, 09 and 118. These 'non-geographic' customer service numbers to shops, banks, utility companies, directory inquiries, public bodies and others are often expensive -- as much as 10p per minute from a landline, or an eye-watering 33p per minute from your mobile.

Ofcom wants to make it much more transparent how much you actually pay to ring them. The plan is this: you pay a single flat 'access charge' to your phone company or network for calls to these numbers, which is displayed on your phone bill. Then you pay a 'service charge' to the company or organisation you're calling -- the amount advertised wherever they show the number.

But don't rush out and start calling Freephone or expensive numbers willy-nilly just yet: it'll be a while before any changes come into effect. Today is just the start of a consultation process that ends this summer. But the "fundamental restructuring of call charging" requires "reasonable time" for networks to sort out, so changes won't kick in for another 18 months after the review finishes -- which by my reckoning means late 2014 at the earliest.

In the meantime, check out Say No to 0870 to find alternative numbers for customer service, and MoneySavingExpert's guides to call charges from a landline and from a mobile.

"Being more transparent about the high cost of making a call is one thing -- tackling these often extortionate costs is another," says telecoms industry know-it-all Ernest Doku of uSwitch.

Although the access charge would protect customers from some of the costs of this "notoriously murky" corner of the telecoms game, Doku believes that's "only half the job -- service providers would still be free to continue to increase prices of these calls at an alarming rate."

Do you think customer services calls are a scam, or are companies entitled to charge for their service? Does anybody do customer services calls well, or are they all terrible? Tell us your best and worst experiences in the comments or on our Facebook wall.