If you've ever seen a national competition advertised on television, the chances are that you've listened to a short summary of how much phone entries are charged. This type of number is called a premium rate service and will cost you more than calls to geographic or freephone numbers.

Many different companies and organisations use premium numbers, including charities and information services. They are used as a way to generate extra income, as well as to deter people from phoning the number unless they actively wish to use the service.

Many people aren't aware of how costly it can be to phone a premium number. Even a short call to a premium rate telephone number could set you back over £10. It's a good idea to know which numbers to look out for so that you aren't faced with an unexpectedly large phone bill.

In this article, we'll look at what premium numbers are, why companies use them and how you can make sure that you're not overcharged for calling one.

What is a premium number?

A premium number is a phone number that's usually more expensive to call than other numbers as it can earn companies and individuals extra revenue. They aren't linked with a geographic location, unlike area codes. Premium numbers usually start with the following digits:

  • 09
  • 118
  • 0871
  • 0872
  • 0873

As with other types of numbers, you can programme your phone so that it can't dial premium rate numbers. This can help you avoid paying expensive charges by accident.

Many different companies and organisations use premium numbers for a variety of services, such as directory inquiries, chat services and mobile games. They are also commonly used by charities and companies that host competitions, as well as TV voting.

Companies cannot solely offer premium rate numbers for customers. They must also offer contact numbers with lower rates for customers that want to contact them about existing contracts, where the customer has already paid for a product or service. The PSA also stipulates that companies must clearly price their services and make sure that customers know what they are buying. It must also be easy for customers to sign up for services and to know exactly what they are purchasing.

All premium numbers are regulated by the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA), formerly known as PhonePayPlus. The organisation is appointed by Ofcom to help regulate phone-paid services and make sure that companies that use premium numbers are abiding by trading standards.

The PSA regulates the operation of premium numbers, including their promotion and content. Its Code of Practice is designed to protect consumers so that they know exactly what they're paying for and don't end up paying extortionate rates. If the PSA believes that a premium rate service has breached the Code of Practice, they will investigate.

There are a number of sanctions that the PSA can impose on a company that hasn't followed the Code of Practice when operating its premium rate service. The PSA may issue formal reprimands at first, although this can escalate to fines of up to £250,000 for each breach of the Code. Companies can also be ordered to pay compensation to consumers who made the claims.

In severe circumstances, companies can be completely banned from offering premium number services. Alternatively, the PSA may ban individuals from operating premium rate services for a set period of time.

To report an issue you have had with a premium rate service, fill out the online form on the PSA website. You can also call their helpline (0300 30 300 20) Monday to Friday, from 9:30 AM to 17:00 PM. Another option is to write to the PSA, making sure to include all relevant information about the issue and your contact details. The PSA address is:

Phone-paid Services Authority

25th Floor

40 Bank Street


E14 5NR

Premium rate numbers are more expensive to call than other types of numbers. The overall cost can be broken down into two different charges - service and access. These are revenue-sharing numbers, which means that businesses and individuals will receive a portion of what you pay, along with your phone company.

When phoning an 09 number, you can be charged a connection fee of up to £6.00, which will go directly to the person you are calling. The service charge can cost from 1p to £3.60 per minute and will also be paid to whoever you calling. You will also have to pay your phone company's access charge when you ring a premium number. This can cost around 65p per minute. It's a good idea to check on your phone provider's website to see how much their access charge is.

All advertised premium numbers should have their charges clearly displayed (usually in small print). It should list the set service charge as well as the one-off charge. Some premium rate numbers have a set fee advertised, along with a reminder that you will have to pay your phone provider's access charge too. This is usually the case for competitions, as you are unlikely to be on the line for longer than a minute.

118 numbers are directory enquiry numbers that are charged at a premium rate. Companies cannot charge more than £3.65 per 90 seconds for service charges. You will be charged an access charge, which will be between 8p to 67p per minute. The numbers should be accompanied by small print that lists the rate that you will be charged.

0870, 0871, 0872 and 0873 are business numbers that are charged at a premium rate. Of all the different types of premium rate numbers, business numbers are generally the cheapest to call. You can be charged a service charge of up to 13p per minute, along with your phone provider's access charge, which can cost up to 65p per minute. Businesses have to include their premium rates in small print where consumers can see them.

UK phone providers can set their own access charges. There isn't a current cap on what providers can charge, although they generally are less than 70p per minute. Mobile phone networks are legally required to advertise the access charge for calling non-geographic numbers on consumer bills and contracts. The table below shows a sample of access charges from various phone providers:

ProviderAccess charge (per minute)
BT0p to 34.26p (depending on call plan)
EE11p to 67p (depending on call plan)
Vodafone45p for pay-as-you-go customers & 65p for monthly plans

Rather than just charging access rates, premium rate numbers also charge service charges and connection fees. This means that consumers have to pay their standard network rate in addition to a set access charge per minute (that will be paid to the business or organisation).

Companies usually offer alternative numbers for consumers to call that aren't as costly. For example, sales numbers are generally cheaper to call than complaint numbers. Consumers must be told the rates for premium rate services so that they know how much they will be paid per minute and the set rate.

Premium rate numbers will have the same connection and service charge whether you are phoning from a mobile or a landline phone. You will also have to pay an access charge that is set by your phone provider. Access charges are often more expensive when you phone from a mobile phone than a landline.

While phone providers often charge a higher access charge for mobile phones, you could avoid this charge if you have free minutes included in your mobile bundle.

Businesses, charity organisations and national broadcasting companies often use premium rate services as they provide a source of income. These types of numbers often consist of digits in memorable patterns so that consumers can easily recall them. Premium numbers can also provide a source of extra income for businesses and organisations as they can collect the connection and service charges from the calls.

09 numbers can generate the highest return, while numbers beginning with 0870, 0871, 0872 or 0873 typically have the lowest premium rate return.

How do I know I’ve been charged for a phone-paid service?

Premium rate numbers will begin with 09, 118 or start with 087. It's a good idea to check your phone bill each month so that you can see if you've been charged the correct amount for any premium numbers you have called.

As your phone bill won't necessarily include the name of the service provider, you may have to enter the full phone number into the PSA service checker to see who phoned you. Try to recall if you phoned a number for services such as directory inquiries or entered a competition that stated there would be a service fee for calling.

What should I do if I'm unexpectedly charged for a premium number?

If you find an unexpected charge on your phone bill, the first thing you need to do is contact the service provider. You can use the PSA service checker to identify who charged you. The checker will ask you to select your network operator and service name.

The service provider should be able to explain why you have been charged, including what services you used and on what date. They are responsible for handling complaints, as well as issuing necessary refunds and putting a stop to future charges. In the instance that you think you are eligible for a refund, you should ask the service provider for proof of purchase and message logs. You should also request any other material that you think shows which service you used and were charged for.

You should speak to your mobile or landline provider if you are still dissatisfied with the charge and the service provider hasn't resolved the issue. Your phone provider may be able to look into the issue and contact the PSA on your behalf.

How can I complain about a premium number charge rate?

You can file a report with the PSA if you think you were unfairly charged for calling a premium number because the company or organisation didn't clearly advertise it as such. A report can also be filed if you don't think the company or organisation made the costs clear.

118 numbers shouldn't charge you more than £3.65 for a 90-second call. You are eligible for a refund if you were charged over this. To do this, you will need to speak with the service provider. You can report the issue to the PSA if you aren't given the refund you are eligible for.

Premium rate telephone services are a type of non-geographic number that are more expensive to call than other types of numbers. This is because they have service charges in addition to the standard access charge that your phone provider sets. The service charges are paid to the business or organisation that you are phoning, while the access charge is paid to your phone provider.

The PSA operates on behalf of Ofcom to regulate controlled premium rate services to make sure that they are following the Code of Practice. Although companies and organisations can set their own service charge, there are caps for certain types of numbers. For example, 118 numbers cannot cost more than £3.65 per 90 seconds. The rates must also be clearly advertised so that consumers know how much they will be charged when phoning the number.