New price cap on 118 numbers

28 November 2018

People who call directory enquiry services will be protected from high prices thanks to a price cap on 118 phone numbers, announced today by Ofcom.

We have been concerned about steep rises in directory enquiry prices. Some companies charge almost £20 for a 90-second call to these services, with a 90-second call to the most popular service, 118 118, now charged at £11.23.

Cheaper services are available, but our research shows consumers tend to use the ones they most easily remember.

The number of calls to 118 services has been falling by around 40% every year, but more than a million people in the UK still use them. Many of these people are elderly.

The cost of calling many of these services is now well above what people expect to pay. Our research estimates that every year, around 450,000 people pay a combined total of £2.4m more than they expect for these calls, with some struggling to pay their bills.

Ofcom is stepping in, by capping the maximum amount a 118 service can charge at £3.65 per 90 seconds. This will bring prices back to the levels they were at in 2012, and closer to what people have told us they expect to pay for using these services.

Jane Rumble, Ofcom’s Director of Consumer Policy, said: “Directory enquiry prices have risen in recent years, and callers are paying much more than they expect. Our evidence shows this is hurting people, with some struggling to pay their bills.

“We’re taking action to protect callers by capping 118 prices. This will significantly cut the cost of many calls, and bring them back to 2012 levels.”

Why prices matter

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 say 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.

The new price cap will protect consumers from unexpectedly high bills, and make directory enquiry services more affordable. The price cap will begin on 1 April 2019, to allow providers of these services to change their prices and billing systems.