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Telecoms Consumer Guidance Note Layout image
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Managing your phone bill

Published by CCE and Oftel.

When do you start paying for a phone call?
Your phone bill may include charges for calls to customer service centres and other locations where you are held in a queue for a time. If you are concerned about such charges and want to manage your call costs better it is useful to know when call charging begins so you can decide if you want to continue a call or put the phone down and try again later. Call charging starts when a call is first answered. If it is not answered, there will be no charge.

When is a call answered?

Charges for a phone call start when the call is first answered. As well as the person you are calling picking up the phone, a call can be answered in a number of ways:

  • When you hear an automatic voice message (eg from answering machines or voicemail) saying, for example, you are held in a queue*
  • When you hear a fax machine or a computer modem (this will sound like a series of elongated high pitched screeching sounds)
  • If you have an Internet connection and you dial your Internet services provider (ISP), you are charged from when the ISP answers the phone line, even if the ISP subsequently fails to provide an Internet connection eg if you enter the wrong password.
When is a call not answered?

A call is not answered, and so you do not incur any charges, if the first and only thing you hear after you have dialled the number is:

  • A ringing tone, or
  • An engaged tone, or
  • An ‘out of service’ announcement, or
  • A number unobtainable tone, or
  • An announcement that specifically says that you have not been charged (eg a changed number announcement). This could follow a ringing tone.

* However, if the organisation or person you are calling is often difficult to get hold of, you may wish to remain in the queue, incurring call charges, rather than ringing back later. This is because queues answer calls in order of call arrival. If you dial again, you go to the back of the queue and may incur another minimum call charge. However the queue may be shorter if you ring back at a less busy time.

Freephone numbers
If you call freephone numbers, beginning with prefix 0500 or 0800, from fixed link phones, then you do not incur a charge. This is not always the case, however, for calls from mobile phones to freephone numbers.

What to do about charges for calls which appear to be unanswered
If you think you have been billed for calls which have not been answered you should contact the telephone company billing you for the call. If the organisation you called gave a misleading announcement as to whether you were being charged you should complain to the organisation responsible for the announcement.

There is a voluntary code of practice for organisations who operate call answering systems which gives detailed guidance on appropriate response messages and procedures. The code is available here.

When do you stop paying for a phone call?
Call charging ends when the telecoms company disconnects the call. This is usually but not always when the caller hangs up and the call appears to end.

  • Voice calls The caller originating the call must hang up for the call to end. The person receiving the call may hang up, but this will not end the call unless the originating caller also hangs up. Only when the originating caller hangs up then will call charging end. You should always check you've replaced the receiver correctly. If you have any concerns that your call has not ended, you should check that you have a dial tone - this indicates the previous call has ended.

  • Internet calls It is possible to shut down the Internet Browser on a PC and still remain connected to the Internet. If the Browser is shut down it may appear that the connection to the Internet has also been closed. However, this may not immediately be the case as it often takes a few seconds for the connection to close. For Windows 95, 97 and NT applications, you should look for a small symbol at the bottom right hand corner of the screen, of two PCs with a line linking them. This symbol indicates that the Internet connection is still being made and therefore still incurring call charges. By clicking on the monitors symbol you will then be given the opportunity to disconnect from the Internet. If you are ever in doubt as to whether you are still connected and want to disconnect, you should simply remove the PC modem cable from the telephone wall socket.

(If you have been following the steps to contact Oftel and this FAQ has not helped then proceed to Step 3)

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