Once upon a time, phone numbers were easy to understand.

There were calls that would be charged at a local-rate, and for those that weren’t local, you would be charged long-distance rates.

There would be numbers charged at a premium rate, but these would be numbers that you would rarely call. These would also be very easily recognised from the prefix, usually something like 09.

Call packages for landlines and mobile phones would often include additional extras to give you cheaper calls for weekends and evenings.

Some of them even offered ‘added extras’ to allow for certain premium-rate and long-distance calls, making them cheaper for those calling them on a regular basis.

Mobile phone companies, for example, would often include a package that allowed you to make cheaper calls to phone numbers with the prefix 08.

Those days were the good ol’ days, weren’t they? Call charges were so much easier to understand, by everyone.

The 21st Century has brought about so many changes in technology, many of which we will always be thankful for, but when it comes to making those calls, things have taken an entirely different turn.

21st Century call confusion

In this day and age, there are so many different phone numbers, starting with so many different figures, all with their own prices and rates.

A 09 number would have been the most expensive number you could call once, but there are now more premium-rate numbers than ever before.

The most horrifying fact of all?

Very few of us actually know we’re calling them.

Take numbers that start with the prefix 03 as just one example. There was media uproar recently over welfare claimants being forced to call a “premium rate” number, without realising it was one.

Why the confusion? Well, for many companies, a number that starts with the prefix 03 is classed as a regular call — a local number — and one that shouldn’t cost extra. This is regardless of when you call it, or whether you call from a landline or mobile phone.

Calling that particular government department’s 03 number would have set you back 55p per minute if you’d called from a mobile phone.

This high cost has now been scrapped but doesn’t take back the expense and confusion already caused for hundreds and thousands of welfare claimants.

Now let’s look at another 03 number — the number for a well known mobile phone network’s customer service. This phone number falls into the regular, local-rate category, costing the same as a local call from your landline or mobile phone.

Where we could once have established the cost of a phone call using the prefix of a number, we now must check the call-rate of every single number that we're dialling, especially if it’s prefixed with 03.

There is no one-size-fits-all rate, no regulation that dictates certain prefixes will come with higher call costs.

One government department will use the prefix for a call that will set you back 55 pence per minute, and another company will use the prefix for a call that is the same as your regular local call-rate, or free.

It’s hardly surprising that so many of us are struggling to understand the cost of our calls.

The good news …

Yes, there is good news. Back in December 2013, new guidance was published to bring order to the many variations of telephone prefixes, as well as the mounting costs associated with some of them.

The Cabinet Office suggested public sector organisations should replace more expensive call-rate numbers, such as those starting with 087 or 084, with cheaper options — the 03 prefix.

Government departments and associated agencies were also advised to take the same approach, and various industries have also been ordered to follow suit, including traders, retailers, public transportation organisations, and more.

Following public and media uproar, the 55p-per-minute government number has thankfully now been changed to a freephone number.

Why are we still confused about what 03 and 08 numbers will cost?

Despite the “good news,” 03 and 08 numbers are still heavily misunderstood. The costs of calls made to these numbers can still vary greatly from company to company.

The official OFCOM guidelines state that 03 numbers should be no more expensive than geographic, local-rate calls — those that start with 01 or 02.

If you have free calls included in your mobile phone package, 03 numbers should be included in them. If they are not, don't call the number. Report it instead.

0800 and 0808 numbers are free-of-charge — they should not cost you to make a call.

A few years back, these were not classed as freephone numbers from your mobile phone, only a landline. This is not the case now. 0800 and 0808 numbers are free to call from both landlines and mobiles, although some business telecommunications packages can incur extra costs for these.

This is where life gets confusing …

08 numbers are the most confusing ones in the bunch. You get charged twice, essentially; once by the company you are trying calling — the service charge, and then again by the phone company — the access charge.

Some 084 numbers can cost 7 pence per minute, whereas others are free.

Some 087 numbers can cost 13 pence per minute, whereas others are free.

Although somewhat simpler, it’s still very easy to get confused over what 03 and 08 numbers will cost. Perhaps it could be argued that all phone numbers with the same prefix, should be charged the same rate?

Number Supermarket has put together a range of guides on call costs in their Advice Centre – including information on the origin of 0800 numbers and advice on forthcoming Ofcom changes. Working with companies of all sizes, they provide cloud-based telephone numbers of all ranges - and make sure to keep their customers up to date with any changes in legislation that will effect them or their customers. Any questions? Call today on 0330 332 0400 to speak to a member of their customer service team.