How to call premium rate phone numbers for free
Don't get stung by premium rate service numbers – here's how to dial down your calling costs.
The only thing special about so-called 'special numbers' (or 'service numbers') is the hidden charges they can whack you with.
As these numbers are often not included in contract minutes, they can quickly ramp up your costs on the sly. They're not classed as standard landline numbers (unlike 01, 02 or 03 calls), meaning they could leave you shelling out up to 60p a minute for dialling.
It's now against the law for companies to use expensive 08 numbers for customer service lines – there should always be a standard/freephone number you can use instead.
But despite strict rules being imposed about when companies are allowed to use 084 or 087 numbers, you'll still find them floating around in places they shouldn't be. These troublesome digits can be beaten – here's how.
What's in this guide?
How to call 08 service numbers for free
When possible, look for alternatives to premium-rate numbers, like ones that start with 0844, 0845, 0870 or 0871 (see more below).
If you need to call customer service or a helpline, the company should already have a standard or free number you can call. Check their website before resigning yourself to using a premium rate number.
However, if you're stuck having to call an expensive line, you can dodge costs by checking out these websites:
Say No To 0870 also has an option on the home page for you to add any free or cheap numbers you’ve found to help other callers out.
However, what this also means is that as Say No to 0870 is an open source website, some of the numbers may be dud ones or, even worse, posted by scammers. Just make sure you check the comments before calling and stay safe.
This handy little app not only gives you a cheaper number to call, but saves you waiting around on hold by giving you a call back once you're connected to a real person.
The best thing is that, while you'll only pay for a standard rate call, you won't be charged while you're queuing (as you would if you dialled direct). That's one way to stretch your call allowance even further...
And, as an elite level hack, why not get a free number through Say No To 0870, and then dial that number through the WeQ4U app to save waiting on hold?!
Premium rate numbers to look out for
These are the most commonly used premium-rate numbers:
Thanks to some relatively recent changes to the law, it's now illegal for retailers, public transport companies and traders to use these numbers for 'post-contract' customer service lines. In other words, if you've already bought a product from them, you won't need to call one of these pricey numbers to get in touch.
However, companies are still allowed to use these numbers for other purposes, including sales. This means that if you're buying a product over the phone, there's a chance that you'll be paying just to carry out the transaction in the first place.
Virgin Trains and National Express are two of the big names that still use pricey 0871 numbers for new ticket sales – but you can dodge these costs by booking online or using one of our fixes.
How much do 0800 numbers cost?
0800 and 0808 numbers are now free to call from mobiles and landlines. They won't appear on your bill, and shouldn't come out of your inclusive allowance either.
If you can't find a free number, look for an alternative starting with 01, 02 or 03: it'll cost you less (or nothing, if you've got a call allowance).
How much do 08 calls cost?
How much you're charged for calling expensive 08 numbers (excluding 0800 and 0808 numbers, as mentioned above) depends on the network you're with and who you're calling.
The cost is made up of an access charge (what your provider charges to connect you) and a service charge, which is set by the company you're calling.
Access charges will vary from network to network (we list the main mobile ones below), but service charges will usually cost the following:
- 084 – up to 7p per minute
- 087 – up to 13p per minute.
The company you're calling should tell you the service charge when you phone (e.g. "calls cost 6p per minute, plus your network's access charge").
Separating the cost like this is meant to make it easier to work out how much your call's going to cost. But, of course, you'll need to know both charges (the call rate of the company you're calling, plus your network's access charge) and add them together to find an estimate.
Calling premium rate numbers from a mobile
Compared to landlines, access rate charges are far more expensive than landlines. Depending on your network, you could be paying almost 60p every minute just to call an 084 or 087 number – and that's not even including the service charge set by the company you're calling.
If you can't avoid calling these premium rate numbers altogether (and can't use one of the free numbers), it may be cheaper to call from a landline. Chances are you won't have one in your student home, but your parents might. If your call can wait, do it next time you're home from uni.
Mobile network access charges
If you've got no choice but to use your mobile, and there's no free alternative to the premium rate number, here are the access charges for all of the major UK mobile networks.
|Phone network||Access charge (per minute)|
|EE||Up to 65p|
|Three||Up to 55p|
|Virgin Mobile||58p (36p on PAYG)|
|Vodafone||Up to 55p|
Note: In the table, we've linked to each network's site for a more detailed breakdown of costs, and where we've said "up to Xp", this indicates that there's a different access charge for different plans (especially when comparing pay as you go with pay monthly).
Calling premium rate numbers from a landline
Some landline plans include calls to 084 and 087 numbers as standard, meaning there could be no extra charge involved in calling a premium rate number. Some providers will also offer free periods, such as evenings and weekends, during which you can call these numbers for free.
If you're unable to get free premium rate calls through your landline provider, don't worry – it's still much cheaper than calling an 084 or 087 number from a mobile. You'll typically be looking at an access charge that's about half the rate mobile networks charge, making this the smart option if it's available.
We know students don't tend to have landlines so we won't bother you with the full list of charges here. But if you do have a landline, Ofcom's call charge guide has links to all the big names.
Cut down your monthly bill further with our guide to making cheap international phone calls.