Just one call to 118 di­rec­tory en­quiries can set you back £20

Daily Mail - - News - By Sean Poul­ter Con­sumer Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

WATCH­DOGS are to crack down on rip-off 118 di­rec­tory en­quiry ser­vices af­ter find­ing a sin­gle call can cost a punishing £20.

Tele­coms reg­u­la­tor Ofcom is con­cerned prices have spi­ralled since the old BT 192 ser­vice was opened up to com­pe­ti­tion 15 years ago.

One small com­pany, Tele­com2, charges an as­ton­ish­ing £15.98 for a 60 sec­ond call and £19.98 for 90 sec­onds. Ofcom is now con­sid­er­ing putting a cap of £3.10 on 90-sec­ond calls.

New es­ti­mates sug­gest as many as 450,000 peo­ple a year are be­ing hit with so- called ‘ bill shock’ with un­ex­pected costs run­ning to £2.4mil­lion a year. The open­ing up of di­rec­tory en­quiries to new providers was sup­posed to boost com­pe­ti­tion and cut prices – but bills have soared in­stead.

Alex Neill of con­sumer group Which? said: ‘A lack of clar­ity around how much it costs to use a pre­mium rate phone num­ber means peo­ple can find them­selves be­ing hit in the pocket when the next phone bill ar­rives.’

Ofcom pub­lished a con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment on its pro­pos­als yes­ter­day, which said: ‘A one­minute call to 118 118 now costs £8.98.’ It said it knew of eight providers charg­ing £15.98 for the first minute of a call, and £7.99 for each sub­se­quent minute.

Ofcom said: ‘While the num­ber of di­rec­tory en­quiry (DQ) calls are fall­ing, con­sumers use DQ ser­vices when they have few al­ter­na­tives and when find­ing the num­ber is im­por­tant to them. Con­sumers also call the num­ber they can re­mem­ber, rather than shop­ping around for the cheap­est deal.’

It said the al­though DQs were once heav­ily ad­ver­tised – par­tic­u­larly with the 118 118 twins, it has re­cently tailed off.

‘This has re­sulted in poor price trans­parency and con­sumers pay­ing much more than they ex­pect,’ it said.

Ofcom, which has car­ried out con­sumer sur­veys on the is­sue, said many DQ users ex­pe­ri­ence bill shock.

It added: ‘Our con­sumer sur­vey showed that just un­der 40 per cent of DQ users ex­pe­ri­enced un­ex­pect­edly high bills in re­la­tion to at least one DQ call in the pre­vi­ous 12 months.

‘This equates to about 450,000 adults in the UK pay­ing, we es­ti­mate, around £ 2.4mil­lion in ex­cess of ex­pec­ta­tions.’

There are cheaper ser­vices avail­able – Vir­gin Me­dia cus­tomers are able to make ten free calls a day to its own DQ ser­vices. O2 charges £1.25 for a one minute call to its DQ ser­vice and BT re­cently cut its prices by more than 50 per cent, to £2.32 for a one minute call.

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