Phone bills are expensive enough at the best of times, but not all numbers are created equal. Premium rate numbers will cost you dearly. Fortunately, they are easy enough to spot. The main offenders start thus;

  • 0870
  • 0845
  • 0871
  • 0872
  • 0844
  • 0843

All of these can end up costing you close to 20p a minute. When you realise a company is using these numbers to skim a bit of extra profit from you, you may well feel like complaining. Gallingly, there’s a good chance you’ll find that their complaints department uses such a number. Often these numbers will be costly, even if you’re on a landline inclusive deal.

That said some providers now offer these types of number for free. So, one of the simplest ways to avoid falling foul of them is just to move to a different phone company. If you do go down this route, be sure to check exactly which numbers are exempt from high charges and, importantly, when such calls are exempt.

Where these non-geographic numbers do apply they can provide an easy revenue stream, but, if you’re savvy you can avoid contributing to it. One way of doing this is to circumvent the expensive number by disguising the reason for your call.

Companies want to encourage you to get in touch if they think you’re going to be spending money, so their sales department will have a cheap line or even a free 0800 number. Call that number and then ask to be transferred over to the appropriate department if you want to make a complaint.

Another trick is to look at the company’s website. Often they will list an alternate number that customers can ring if they are calling from abroad. This will usually be cheaper and you can still dial from the UK if you use the international prefix.

If you do need to call using the premium rate number, be sure to use a landline rather than your mobile, as that will cost you even more. Unless you have a smartphone, that is. If you do, there are apps that can help you make your calls without paying a premium rate. The WeQ4U app for instance, which is free to download, will route your calls through to premium numbers through a standard number. This does involve being held in a queue of other callers, but companies are likely to put you on hold anyway and they’ll charge you for the pleasure.

If your phone can’t support such apps you can still make use of the service. First you’d need to call 0333 5432111 and then make your call to the number of the company you want to get in touch with.

Another alternative is to do some poking around and see if there is an alternate cheaper number that will get you talking to the same people. The SayNoTo0870 website acts as a crowd sourced database, compiling these obscure, cheaper numbers. However, as anyone can contribute there are some duds and, unfortunately, some scammers have been known to put up fake numbers for their own ends.

Finally, if dialling from a landline, you can try using an ‘override’ provider. These are services that, using a prefix to the number you ring, take you temporarily off of your landline providers tariff and on to theirs (which will be cheaper for certain numbers). There are two ways this can work. With some, you’ll need an account with the company through which you can be billed. In this case you will have a free phone access number that you dial when you want to use the service.

With others you will simply dial the access number, with no accounted needed, and you will be billed through your usual provider at over rider’s rate. The drawback here is that you are charged from the moment you call rather than the moment you’re connected, so you’d have to pay for a minute’s call even if nobody picked up. That said, it is hassle free and worth the risk.