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Phantom Calls to the 123 Speaking Clock on BT Openreach Phone Lines

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015 (8:36 am) - Score 4,159

UK ISP Andrews and Arnold (AAISP) reports that some of their broadband-only customers are still being charged around 30-40p for phantom calls to 123 (Speaking Clock) and that’s despite the use of Outgoing Call Barring (OCB). The finger of blame is once again being pointed at BTOpenreach’s contractors.

Last year we ran a piece on this same problem and so today’s story could perhaps be considered a follow-up (here), albeit one with some interesting twists. In our original report it was noted that engineers working for at least one of Openreach’s contractors (e.g. Kelly Communications) were sometimes calling 123 in order to identify if a line (spare copper pair) was available for use with another customer.

At this point if the call to 123 didn’t connect then the engineer sometimes incorrectly assumed that the line was inactive and moved it for use by another customer, which left the original owner of the line with a dead service and an unwanted 30-40 pence call charge to the speaking clock. Needless to say that this is NOT standard practice for Openreach’s engineers (they call a special number to test lines).

A Spokesperson for Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk (March 2014):

Openreach is fully focused on connecting new customers and helping restore service to those experiencing a fault. We do not condone impacting one customer’s service to restore another’s and we take such allegations very seriously.

We would encourage anybody with any evidence of this activity to report it to Openreach immediately and we will investigate.”

Since then Openreach has been keeping a closer eye on their contractors, although ISPreview.co.uk has continued to receive occasional complaints about phantom 123 call charges (we see these gripes from customers of various ISPs, such as PlusNet, BT and of course AAISP etc.). Some providers, such as PlusNet, have allegedly even refunded a few customers for related calls.

However one problem with 123 is that it’s very difficult to say for sure that the charge came from a telecoms engineer, rather than perhaps a naughty 5 year old playing with the handset etc.

The latest situation adds a new dimension to this because AAISP has noted that the calls to 123 are still being spotted, although they’re now cropping up on broadband-only lines where Outgoing Call Barring (OCB) has been enabled and so 123 shouldn’t even work.

Adrian Kennard, Managing Director of AAISP, said:

Customers have mystery charges to 123 on their bills. These are customers that do not even have a telephone connected to the line as it is provided for broadband only. So the most likely explanation is an engineer testing the line with a call to 123.

What is stranger is that the lines in question do have OCB enabled, and so a call to 123 should not have worked. One of them is even set up with our message (using “Direct Connect”) and so does not even have a proper dial tone or a means to call 123. This suggests BT have a more serious problem of allowing calls on lines with outgoing barring enabled, or some serious billing system errors causing calls to be put on the wrong line!

At this point we should remind readers that AAISP are one of the few ISPs that sells a raw copper line rental service, which effectively does away with many of the phone/voice components so that it can act as a kind of broadband-only (Naked DSL) service. As such it’s much easier for them to spot when calls to 123 are being made in an incorrect way.

AAISP has already raised the problem with Openreach, which saw one of their agents give the following flaky response: “Perhaps someone deactivated it? Not sure OCB blocks 123 either (speaking clock)“. We have also asked Openreach to comment and are awaiting their reply. The 123 issue is quite well-known and so we’re a little surprised that it still occurs.

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar Mike C says:

    A curious 5 year old 😉

  2. Avatar Tom says:

    I used to work at a company about 10 years ago where most of the employees would sit there and dial 123 towards the end of the day to tell the exact and accurate moment they could “clock off”.

    Can’t imagine how much this cost the company in call charges :\

  3. Avatar Mick says:

    The mental age of a BT contractor would probably be similar to that of a naughty 5 year old

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