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ISP TalkTalk Launch UK Call Whisper to Tackle “rip off” 118 Numbers

Friday, January 11th, 2019 (11:06 am) - Score 4,634
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Budget broadband ISP TalkTalk has today described Ofcom’s plan to introduce a £3.65 price cap in order to control “rip off” calls to premium 118 (Directory Enquires) numbers as “inadequate“. In response they’ve launched a new ‘Call Whisper’ feature that will warn customers about the potentially high costs.

Back in November 2018 Ofcom revealed that the cost of contacting 118 numbers can sometimes spiral up to £20 for an average 90-second call (here). As a result the national telecoms regulator decided to clampdown on the problem by imposing a cap on the cost of calling such services (effective from 1st April 2019), which works out as a maximum charge of £3.65 per 90 seconds.

However, TalkTalk says the cap does not go far enough and remains about “three times the appropriate level.” The ISP has also called on Ofcom to open a Competition Act investigation into TNUK to protect consumers (one of the most expensive 118 providers). “The company holds a dominant market position and currently charges customers 10 times the cost of providing the services, while offering little or no information about pricing structures,” said the ISP.

Instead TalkTalk believes that the price cap should be set at £1 per 90 second call, although they’re unlikely to overturn Ofcom’s decision by themselves and so have decided to take action by introducing a new feature. In fairness jumping to the £1 charge so soon may be a bit too extreme, although it would probably be popular among consumers.

Call Whisper

Essentially call whisper will warn customers about the potentially high cost of using directory enquiry services and advise them to use alternatives. Whenever a customer on the TalkTalk network calls a directory enquiries number, they will now hear the message below:

This is a message from TalkTalk. Calling 118 numbers such as this one may cost you as much as £19.98 per 90 second call. You may also incur further charges if you’re later connected to the number you need. We strongly recommend that you search for the number for free online. If you hang up now, you won’t be charged for this call.”

Tristia Harrison, TalkTalk’s CEO, said:

“Directory enquiries are there to help consumers rather than to penalise them. Even with the proposed price-cap, companies will continue ripping-off customers – the majority of whom, potentially vulnerable or elderly people, have no idea of the true cost of these calls. We’re also concerned that there are no plans to control the charges when a call is connected onwards, despite this being the greatest incidence of bill shock.

We say to Ofcom and the companies ‘the ball is back in your court’. We’re taking robust action ourselves by launching a new ‘call whisper’ feature to protect our customers which will advise them to use alternative sources of information. Prices must be reduced straight away, and Ofcom must ensure that competition is working in this market which right now is well and truly broken.”

We suspect the 118 companies won’t like this change very much. Equally we’d hope that TalkTalk remembers to adjust their message once the new price cap is introduced in April or give customers who do know how much it costs the ability to disable it.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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33 Responses
  1. Avatar dave

    I wonder if Talk Talk could be opening themselves up to legal action. If I was the operator of a cheaper 118 service and I saw a downturn in the number of calls from Talk Talk customers, I would be very tempted to blame it on this message from Talk Talk claiming that my service may cost up to £19.98.

    • Avatar Joe

      While litigation gets ever more silly as the years pass I don’t think so in this case. Warning about costs and allow you to choose would be a very hard case to make

    • Avatar dave

      I think it would be a perfectly valid case. Take this example:

      – You try to use a DQ service from your Talk Talk line

      – You receive a message saying that it might cost up to £19.98 (or £3.65 after the cap) for 90 seconds, which scares you into hanging up

      – You hang up to consider your options and since you are a Talk Talk customer, you call them for advice on costs to 118 numbers

      – They inform you that they have their own 118 service (118 111) which costs less than £19.98 (or £3.65 after the cap)

      In this perfectly reasonable scenario, Talk Talk may have scared you off of using the DQ service you chose and even gets to promote their own service, the cost of which might seem perfectly reasonable because it’s less than the scary figure given in the message.

      You can easily argue that the caller has been scared off of calling the initial DQ number due to FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) from Talk Talk and in the case that the caller then contacts Talk Talk for clarification and is given their own DQ number, you can argue that not only has Talk Talk caused a loss to the DQ operator but has managed to gain potential business for themselves.

    • Avatar dave

      Since the cost of 118 numbers has to be given whenever they are advertised, I don’t think the cost of the numbers is the actual problem. I think the real issue is that companies like TNUK get to circumvent regulations by advertising loans but sneakily including their DQ brand (I’m talking about 118118 Money). Since it’s not directly an advert for the DQ service, they get to flash their brand around, reminding people of the existence of 118118, without having to list the call cost at all!

    • Avatar Joe

      IANAL but Your argument doesn’t work. If they were offering their own service at a cheaper price in the original call you might have a point. But a warning about costs is not going to make a case. If you choose to call TT after that its your choice they didn’t ask you and indeed suggest “you search for the number for free online”.

    • Avatar Dave

      Let’s put it this way then – why should talk talk be allowed to scare their customers out of calling competing 118 services? Why should they be able to inject any kind of messages into a call between one of their customers and a non talk talk service?

      On a side note, if Talk Talk really believe that DQ calls should cost £1 per 90 seconds then why are they not already charging that? My research shows that their 118 service (118 111) costs £1.55 per minute plus £0.77 connection (SC066). I make this £3.09 per 90 seconds.

      Full of nonsense as always.

    • Avatar Joe

      Reasonable Duty of Care.

      I have no opinion of their own prices, I’d never use 118s

    • Avatar John Rutter

      “if Talk Talk really believe that DQ calls should cost £1 per 90 seconds then why are they not already charging that?”
      —————————————————————————————
      Maybe their DQ supplier charges them the current high rates? Or do you really think their Warrington/New Delhi/Cape Town/Manila staff answer DQ calls directly?

    • Avatar Dave

      John Rutter, I have no idea who answers their DQ calls but why shouldn’t be overseas call centres? If it’s ok for customer support, it’s ok for DQ too.

      Even if they have outsourced their DQ service and they are charged a higher rate, then out of principle they should make changes so that they can charge a maximum of £1 per 90 seconds or just shut it down if they are not able to.

      The whole thing is nothing but hypocrisy on their part.

    • Avatar dave

      Joe

      Duty of care? More like using the impending reduction of DQ charges in an attempt to score some cheap goodwill by suddenly “protecting” their customers from high DQ charges, when in fact they are about to be capped anyway and after ignoring the issue for years.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Agreed Dave

      This is dodgy ground. Intercepting and inserting like this regardless of the good intent just seems wrong.

      Today voice calls, tomorrow websites?

    • Avatar John Rutter

      @Dave

      If DQ is outsourced by TT (as is most likely) why on earth should they take a hit and start selling it for less than they’re charged? I’ve you’ve ever ran a business you will know how utterly bonkers that sounds. Fact is DQ is a necessary ‘evil’ for a small % of the population (eg elderly & frail) and such people should be better informed of the costs rather than just banning the service. Its not that different from calling a 0844 number from my mobile/landline and being told in advance by some companies the potential cost of the call and being given the chance to hang up. A lot of fuss over nothing really.

    • Avatar Dave

      @John Rutter

      I have two businesses of my own, in telecoms of all things! (No, neither of them provides a 118 service).

      If Talk Talk can’t provide a DQ service at a rate that fits with their new found ethics then they shouldn’t provide one at all. There are other DQ services which are cheaper, so the market won’t lose out.

      Which landline and mobile providers insert cost warnings into calls to 084/087 numbers? I have used pretty much every service out there and can’t remember one.

    • Avatar John Rutter

      “Which landline and mobile providers insert cost warnings into calls to 084/087 numbers?”
      ——————————————————————————————
      I meant the actual company/org you are calling on 0844 inserting the cost warning, not the mobile or landline operator. Of course not all companies do this, but many do. Most (if not all) people would agree this is a very good idea so not sure why you object to TalkTalk doing the same for DQ calls. Its sheer paranoia to suggest they’re doing it purely to get folks to use their own DQ service, and even if they tried, I’m sure OFCOM would come down on them like a tonne of bricks. Like I said, much fuss over nothing.

    • Avatar davidj

      “I think it would be a perfectly valid case. Take this example:

      – You try to use a DQ service from your Talk Talk line

      – You receive a message saying that it might cost up to £19.98 (or £3.65 after the cap) for 90 seconds, which scares you into hanging up

      – You hang up to consider your options and since you are a Talk Talk customer, you call them for advice on costs to 118 numbers

      – They inform you that they have their own 118 service (118 111) which costs less than £19.98 (or £3.65 after the cap)”

      What a fail of an example.
      When you dial Talk Talks own 118 111 number you would still get the same recorded message as you initially got…….. The message is going to be played on ALL 118 services. If you choose to STILL ignore it that is a choice you have made.

    • Avatar davidj

      “Which landline and mobile providers insert cost warnings into calls to 084/087 numbers? I have used pretty much every service out there and can’t remember one.”

      Typically it is not the responsibility of the Phone Line/Mobile operator to warn people and for 08,09 and many other numbers it is the responsibility of the business that runs the service number to inform you of any additional service charges when calling their number.

      It has been that way since 2015 so if you have never seen or heard any warning about calling a 08 or 09 number you have not been paying attention, or not dialed many of them.
      http://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/advice/uk-calling

      Talk Talk are doing nothing wrong in fact all they are doing is adding an additional warning for numbers which can have substantial charges applied to them by a THIRD party NOT Talk Talk.

    • Avatar Dave

      @davidj

      It remains to be seen whether they will include the message even on their own 118 number.

      @John Rutter

      I wasn’t suggesting that they are doing it to get people to use their own 118 number, that was simply a possible outcome in some cases.

      My main concerns are:

      – No telephone company should be inserting anything into a call between one of their customers and a number provided by another company, simply out of principle. The exceptions to this would be If the message insertion is mandated by regulation or when their customer is calling one of their service providers own numbers.

      – Talk Talk are hypocrites for suggesting that 118 number should cost £1 per 90 seconds when their own costs 3 times that. The reasons why it has this cost are not relevant at all in my opinion. If Talk Talk can’t offer a service at £1 per 90 seconds then they can’t expect others to either. They are attempting to be seen as a consumer champion when in fact, there is an obvious flaw.

    • Avatar davidj

      “@davidj

      It remains to be seen whether they will include the message even on their own 118 number.”

      No it does not try reading the story.
      “Whenever a customer on the TalkTalk network calls a directory enquiries number, they will now hear the message below:

      “This is a message from TalkTalk. Calling 118 numbers……”

      118 NUMBERS not just selected ones.

      “Talk Talk are hypocrites for suggesting that 118 number should cost £1 per 90 seconds when their own costs 3 times that. ”

      IT is NOT their own number… It like any 118 service is a THIRD party/organisation. Do you also go and order stuff online, select the “PREMIUM” delivery option and then blame the company you are ordering from for the postage costing more than the economy postage option? Talk Talk have no control over what a THIRD party wants to charge for a “PREMIUM” rate number. Either you are just being obtuse, or you understand entirely and your bigger issue is you obviously do not like Talk Talk, no doubt when BT, Sky or whoever you adore introduce a similar service though it will be great for the consumer.

    • Avatar dave

      @davidj

      In an interesting twist, I have just called 118111 and I received a message that the service is no longer available and if you want to search for a telephone number, you could try searching on-line or use another 118 service.

      Before testing it, I did check with the Ofcom allocations database and 118111 is not a third party number, it is a talk talk number. It’s possible the service was operated by a third party but I will leave you to produce evidence that was the case.

      It does at least appear that Talk Talk chose not to be hypocrites! There is still the question of why they believe others can operate a 118 service at a cost of £1 per 90 seconds when they have chosen not to, quite possibly for financial reasons.

      For the record I have issues with all telecoms providers, which I won’t go into here except to say that they are all less than honest once you get down to the nitty gritty. I have no loyalty to any of them.

      I still think it’s a bad idea for any telecoms provider to inject messages into calls to another telecoms providers services.

    • Avatar Dave

      @davidj

      “Talk Talk are doing nothing wrong in fact all they are doing is adding an additional warning for numbers which can have substantial charges applied to them by a THIRD party NOT Talk Talk.”

      As you and I are both aware that it has been mandated for charges to appear next to any 08/09/118 number since July 2015, then there is no need for this.

      It might start with a message warning about the cost of calling 118 services but where does it end, if we allow telcos to insert arbitrary messages into the start of calls?

      They are a communications provider but it is not their place to interfere with those communications.

    • Avatar davidj

      “In an interesting twist, I have just called 118111 and I received a message that the service is no longer available”

      There goes all your hot air about Talk Talk and “Talk Talk are hypocrites for suggesting that 118 number should cost £1 per 90 seconds when their own costs 3 times that.” then.

      “Before testing it, I did check with the Ofcom allocations database and 118111 is not a third party number, it is a talk talk number.”

      NO its not and AFAIK Ofcom do not allocate the numbers. 118 numbers are provider via organisations like TNUK. They are no different really to donation text numbers or competition lines. NO 118 number AFAIK is OUTRIGHT owned by any UK telephone provider. The costs involved in actually owning services like that would be astronomical. BT have several 118 numbers in the 1184xx and 1185xx ranges. There is no way they own and run all of them though.

      “As you and I are both aware that it has been mandated for charges to appear next to any 08/09/118 number since July 2015, then there is no need for this.”

      What about people who are blind, who do they read the costs on the nice gloss TV ads and the small print at the bottom?

      “It might start with a message warning about the cost of calling 118 services but where does it end, if we allow telcos to insert arbitrary messages into the start of calls?”

      You already get arbitrary messages at the start of calls already. You get them on premium rate numbers. Some providers also put them on numbers you call overseas. Mobile Operators in the past ive even known to have messages on 0800 and similar numbers to remind you it may not be free on a mobile.

      Frankly im at a lost as to what your problem is.

  2. Avatar John Elvin

    I think the biggest problem is that people don’t realise that if they allow the directory service to connect for them they will continue to pay the premium rate for the call whereas if they noted the number and dialled it themselves it could be normal rate (or more likely free under their calling plan). Neither OFCOMS plan nor whisper addresses that!

  3. Avatar Phil

    118 service call should be scrapped bloody ofcom more of the same as the Tories greedy money grabbing!

  4. Avatar Mike

    It’s a bloody scandal well done talktalk for informing there customers

  5. Avatar Still with 118?

    The 118 lines are mostly to rip off the people who don’t have internet or can’t use it. I won’t be amazed if Google or Bing make a similar service but almost free.

  6. Avatar Dave

    “Talk Talk are doing nothing wrong in fact all they are doing is adding an additional warning for numbers which can have substantial charges applied to them by a THIRD party NOT Talk Talk.”

    As you and I are both aware that it has been mandated for charges to appear next to any 08/09/118 number since July 2015, then there is no need for this.

    It might start with a message warning about the cost of calling 118 services but where does it end, if we allow telcos to insert arbitrary messages into the start of calls?

    They are a communications provider but it is not their place to interfere with those communications.

    • Avatar Spurple

      When you call an 09 number, networks advise you of additional charges and tell you to hangup if you do not accept the charge. They would be within their rights to do this for any billable call, some even do for 0845 numbers too. It’s always been something telcos do, and I’ve found it useful on occasion (as a reminder to search for an equivalent 0345 number instead)

      Stop trying to introduce a slippery slope when there is none. Are you a DQ operator worried that the gig is up on your overpriced service?

    • Avatar dave

      @Spurple

      I do not run a 118 service, I have mentioned that already.

      Your claim that networks advise of call charges when calling 09 numbers not true, at least not for any network I’ve ever used (and that is most). Please give me an example of a network that does this for 09 and/or 0845?

      In any case, something being done does not necessarily make it right and doesn’t mean it isn’t open to potential abuse.

    • Avatar dave

      More generally Ofcom seem to agree that pre-call announcements are not good but for other reasons:

      2007 Removal of the Requirement for Pre-call Announcements on 070 Numbers

      2.17 The pre-call announcement obligation was withdrawn for 070 services in December 2007, following complaints that use of the pre-call announcement had caused automated calling services to fail because of the dialling delay. It was considered that the failure of hospital and burglar alarms endangered the life and security of people who depend on the reliability of such services.

    • Avatar davidj

      You do get warning messages on some premium rate numbers. Some prior competitions which Channel 5 run on programming or during the commercial breaks clearly VERBALLY tells you the costs not only in the advert but again when you call the number.

      You also with some providers get warnings about cost when dialling overseas. Mobile providers also have a message at times if you are dialling a freephone number or cheaper call rate number telling you it may cost more on your mobile (and the price).

      Ofcoms 2007 announcement you mention was in regards 070 non-geographic numbers being made available for personal use, rather than just business. Which at the time automatically filed them into a different number type. Scummy businesses which continued to use them when they were charging premium rates if you carry on reading about them were later dealt with when Ofcom made them all a fixed maximum rate.

      Quite what your issue is in informing any consumer the cost of a call is still a mystery.

    • Avatar Dave

      You obviously don’t actually know much about the UK telecoms sector, so let me keep it simple:

      “NO its not and AFAIK Ofcom do not allocate the numbers.”

      They do.

      “NO 118 number AFAIK is OUTRIGHT owned by any UK telephone provider. The costs involved in actually owning services like that would be astronomical.”

      Numbers are allocated to communications providers who then it turn make them available for use by service providers. Sometimes the communications provider and the service provider are one and the same. Having the numbers allocated to your organisation is as close to owning them as you can get. There are no astronomical costs involved. I know this because I almost got allocations for my business a few years ago. The cost is minimal.

      “What about people who are blind, who do they read the costs on the nice gloss TV ads and the small print at the bottom?”

      In the event that a blind person is watching TV, the only way they are going to know about the phone number, is if it is read out, in which case the regulations when require the call charges to be read out. This is a totally different thing to your telecoms provider injecting their own message into the call, which is what I have an issue with.

      “You already get arbitrary messages at the start of calls already. You get them on premium rate numbers.”

      No you don’t, not from your telecoms provider. Messages provided by the service provider at the start of the call are not the same thing and I have no problem with that (there is no conflict of interest).

      “Some providers also put them on numbers you call overseas.”

      I call overseas very often and have never heard such a thing.

      “Mobile Operators in the past ive even known to have messages on 0800 and similar numbers to remind you it may not be free on a mobile.”

      That much is true at least.

      “You do get warning messages on some premium rate numbers. Some prior competitions which Channel 5 run on programming or during the commercial breaks clearly VERBALLY tells you the costs not only in the advert but again when you call the number.”

      Which is totally different to your telecoms provider injecting a pre-call announcement.

      “Ofcoms 2007 announcement you mention was in regards 070 non-geographic numbers being made available for personal use, rather than just business.”

      070 have always been personal numbers.

      “Quite what your issue is in informing any consumer the cost of a call is still a mystery.”

      I don’t have a problem with the consumer being aware of call costs, that is a very good thing. I just believe there is no justification for pre-call announcements as Talk Talk have done with 118 numbers. I have given my reasons why, take them or leave them.

      That’s my last words on the matter, as I am reminded of the phrase “never argue with an idiot, as onlookers may not be able to tell the difference”.

    • Avatar davidj

      “You obviously don’t actually know much about the UK telecoms sector, so let me keep it simple:”

      Quite clearly you know even less otherwise you would comprehend why there is nothing wrong with what Talk Talk are doing or why Ofcom are allowing it.

      Your further thoughts on the matter or what you think is right or wrong now you want to start with snide remarks are therefore…. utterly irrelevant.

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