I have a package with the Phone Co-Op whereby for a set amount each month, all calls made to landline numbers are free (or more accurately pre-paid). It therefore drives me mad each month to see listed on my bill the calls I have had to make on 0844 or 0845 numbers for which I am charged.The irony is that these numbers are those of my doctor’s surgery or the tax credit office, the Inland Revenue, Barclays bank, Ecotricity, Anglian Water or British Rail. I am allegedly a customer of all of these companies but I am being charged to phone them and even more annoying is that chances are, the owner of the 0844 number often gets a cut of the call charge. Worse still, it often means if you call to complain, the company you’re speaking to may be profiting from the call.And we all know how long it takes to speak to a human being when you call these lines. First of all you have to negotiate all of the options, then listening to some awful piped music before somebody eventually acknowledges your existence. It does make you wonder if all this hanging on the line is in the name of profits, even though the companies would have you believe it is their aim to give you a better service.

This cashing in goes on everywhere; last month, The Guardian featured a piece on UCAS, the University Clearing body which miserable students who haven’t quiet made the grade have to phone in order to find a place. As well as the prospect of being saddled with three years of debt, the poor student has to phone UCAS on a pricey 0871 number.”Fair Telecoms campaigner David Hickson warned this week that students calling Ucas’s main 0871 contact line will pay £1.07 for a 10-minute call from a BT landline, and up to £4.50 from a mobile.” It is even more unethical that doctors surgeries, including my own, use these numbers.In fact more than 900 GP practices across the country use 0844 numbers despite official guidance from the Department of Health and the NHS that they should not do so.
Callers with a mobile can be charged up to 41p a minute to reach these numbers – more than double the figure for a normal geographic number beginning 01 or 02.

And these numbers are creeping up on us everywhere. I always advocate the Co-Op as an ethical business but last year “Guardian Money was sent an internal Co-op memo suggesting the group was set to make an extra £2.4 million when it switched to 0844 numbers. The document said the Co-op would receive 4p a minute of the 5p a minute paid by customers – up from the 1p a minute it was getting from 0845 numbers.The Co-op move caused an outcry; now that will all have to be changed again.These numbers are almost impossible to avoid. The website “Say No to 0870” gives tips on obtaining a straightforward 01 alternative number. But if this trend continues it can only be a matter of time before we are being asked to dial 0870 999