New price cap on calling 118 numbers

Ofcom /

In an attempt to protect people who use 118 directory enquiry services from high call charges, Ofcom is introducing a new price cap on all calls made to 118 numbers.

We have seen how the costs to use directory enquiry services has risen over the years, and we have been particularly concerned about how these high prices can affect vulnerable people.

High Charges

Some Directory Enquiry providers charge almost £20 for a call that lasts an average of just 90-seconds! Even the most popular service (118 118) charges £11.23 for a 90-second call.

Even though there are cheaper services available, Ofcom’s research shows that people tend to call the numbers that are easy to remember.

And despite the number of calls made to 118 services has been reducing by around 40% every year, more than a million people in the UK – many of them elderly – still use these services.

The price of calling many of these services is significantly more than what people expect to pay. Research from Ofcom estimates that around 450,000 people a year are spending £2.4 million in total more than they expected for these calls, with some struggling to pay their bills.

The Price Cap

Ofcom is capping the maximum amount a 118 service can charge at £3.65 per 90 seconds.

The price cap will come into force on 1 April 2019, allowing providers time to adjust their prices and billing systems.

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 pricing matters

Research has 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.

Mark Burcher