0800 numbers, 0500 numbers, 0300 numbers, 10 digits, 11 digits, constant changes ... UK freephone numbers have a somewhat farcical history says Jemma Fox of The 0800 Number Company.
With more changes on the way for freephone numbers in the UK, Jemma Fox, Marketing Director of The 0800 Number Company, takes an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek look at the farcical sequence of events surrounding the history of freephone numbers.
“To an outsider, the UK regulator OFCOM could be perceived to have at best an impish sense of humour as they continually seem to move the goalposts with regards to freephone numbers,” says Fox. “To an insider, it really does feel a bit like working within the script of a Carry On Film. Just when you’ve got used to the latest changes and upheaval, along comes another review recommending a complete overhaul to be replaced by something else”. Ooh matron! Delving into the history a little, she explains that “BT was initially given 0800 for use as a freephone range last century. Those of us with a keen sense of history (and grey hair) will remember Mercury Communications back in the 90’s who were the ‘David’ in the ‘David and Goliath’ battle with BT. This of course was back when a small proportion of us made phone calls on mobiles the size of a house brick, but most people still used a landline to make calls.” Mercury (or David) was given the 0500 number range to use as freephone number. Amazingly, there are still several 0500 numbers that are firmly fixed in the public’s memory banks. Think of BBC Radio Five Live and 0500 909 693 and Watchdog on 0500 600 700.
Early 0800 numbers had six digits after the 0800 prefix eg 0800 111 222. This meant that only a finite range was available from 0800 000 000 to 0800 999 999. That seemed adequate several years ago but it then dawned on OFCOM that there might be a day when the range of 0800 numbers would be completely exhausted. The stroke of genius was to make seven digits appear after the 0800 prefix eg 0800 111 2222. This increased the 0800 range by a factor of ten. Not to be outdone OFCOM introduced an additional 08 prefix for freephone use which is 0808.
The days of OFCOM messing around with the phone numbers seemingly every year and confusing everyone seemed to be a thing of the past, but now more changes are upon us. The cost of calling freephone numbers from a mobile has prompted OFCOM to unveil yet another range of numbers (the 03 range) which cost the same to call from a mobile as a landline. The 0300 and 0303 prefix can only be used by not for profit or public bodies but the 0333 and 0330 can be used by anyone.
Confused? Hardly surprising! OFCOM has a wide range of prefixes available but all the prefixes listed below are working freephone prefixes:
If something as simple as an increase in people using phones back in the 1980s and 1990s caused problems, then the revolution currently going on in telecommunications is bound to result in reviews and changes that will have us all reaching for the headache pills again! Long live government intervention in the private sector!