People who call directory enquiry services will be protected from high prices from today, thanks to a new price cap on 118 phone numbers.
Telecoms operator Ofcom says it is concerned about steep rises in directory enquiry prices, with some companies charging almost £20 for a 90-second call.
In another example, a 90-second call to the most popular service, 118 118, costs £11.23.
Ofcom says it is capping the maximum cost a 118 service can charge at £3.65 per 90 seconds, bringing prices back to the levels they were at in 2012.
Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s director of consumer policy, says: “Directory enquiry prices had been rising in recent years, and callers were paying much more than they expected. Our evidence shows this was hurting people, with some struggling to pay their bills.
“We’ve taken action to protect callers by capping 118 prices. This will significantly cut the cost of many calls, and bring them back to 2012 levels.”
Ofcom says that while the number of calls to 118 services has been falling by around 40% every year, more than a million people in the UK still use them, many of whom are elderly.
While cheaper services are available, research from the regulator shows consumers tend to use the ones they most easily remember.
It says that around 450,000 people are paying a combined total of £2.4 million more than they expect for these calls, with some struggling to pay their bills.
Ofcom’s research found four in five users of directory enquiry services (82%) say it is important to get hold of a number they need at the time they call the service.
People aged 65 and over are four times more likely to call 118 numbers than those aged 16 to 34, and are far less likely to have internet access when they need to find a number.
In addition, nearly two-thirds (65%) of callers to these services said they don’t know how much the calls cost.
Two in five (42%) say they have no alternative to using a directory enquiry service at that time, and a similar proportion are charged more than they expect.