What does my call allowance cover, and which calls are excluded?

What does my call allowance cover, and which calls are excluded?

Although phone calls are increasingly being supplanted by emails and social media messages, the ability to make a call remains a smartphone’s primary function.

As such, it represents a key part of any new contract.

At SimOnlyDeals, we list call minutes before data allowances and even monthly costs, reflecting talk time’s historic importance when choosing a new phone contract.

Some contracts provide unlimited talk time, while others restrict you to a specific monthly quota.

This can be as much as 5,000 minutes, or just 150.

However, don’t assume that’s 150 or 5,000 minutes of calls to anyone, anywhere.

These contracts often feature call allowance exclusions, and understanding what’s exempted is crucial for ensuring your next bill isn’t unexpectedly inflated by hidden costs.

Explaining call allowance exclusions

Talk time minutes generally cover calls made to UK numbers starting in 01, 02, 03 and 07.

Emergency service calls like 101 and 111 are exempt, as are freephone 0800 and 0808 numbers.

That’s where the generosity generally ends, and the call allowance exclusions begin.

Directory enquiries calls to a number starting in 118 incur an Ofcom-capped cost of up to £3.65 for a 90-second call.

Overseas calls aren’t included in mobile contracts, unless you opt for an international deal which encompasses calls to certain nations hand-picked by your network operator.

Domestic premium-rate 084, 087 and 09 numbers are even more complicated.

They incur a provider service charge, plus a separate access charge through the network operator.

For instance, an 0870 number involves an access charge of up to 13 pence per minute or per call, on top of access charges extending up to 65 pence per minute.

Results may vary

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find out what premium-rate call costs are.

There’s lots of outdated information online. And the phone companies aren’t always as clear as they could be.

EE has published a service charge costs document for numbers beginning with 08 and 09. That sounds useful, until you discover the document is 351 pages long.

As of February 2020, EE charges a flat fee of 65ppm to premium rate numbers, from the start of the call.

Yet EE’s Orange subsidiary charges per second, either from the start of the call or after one minute has elapsed. And its other T-Mobile subsidiary is different again – a flat 50ppm.

Meanwhile, if you have an EE Small Business plan, you’ll pay 46ppm (exclusive of VAT) as an access charge.

Other network operators apply their own costs. Dialling an 087 number costs 55ppm through Vodafone, while 09 numbers cost the same from O2 but are only 25ppm with Three.

Think before you dial

You could wade through your chosen network provider’s small print, before breaking out a calculator to work out what a five-minute call to an 0845 number would cost.

However, a simpler solution is simply to avoid contacting premium-rate numbers from your smartphone.

If you must ring a premium service, use a landline. Costs tend to be far cheaper.

As an example, the Post Office charges 14 pence per minute for 0845 and 0870 calls.

Ironically, that’s cheaper than calls to landline or mobile numbers once you’ve exceeded your inclusive call allowance (the Post Office bills these at 15 and 18ppm respectively).

On a mobile, a ten-minute call to an 0870 number could cost as much as £8.80. And because it won’t be covered by call allowances, it’ll appear on your next monthly bill.

That could be an unwelcome surprise – and one which is best avoided if possible.

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