BT's consumer customers will no longer have to pay extra to call numbers beginning with 0845 or 0870, but business customers will not benefit from the same pricing change.
The move, announced on Thursday, treats 0845 and 0870 numbers the same as standard landline numbers in flat-rate call bundles for home users. BT said the move will cost it "tens of millions" of pounds, but that it had decided to "give customers what they want". The company claimed to be the first operator to drop the charges in question.
Numbers beginning with 0845 and 0870 tend to be used for support lines and customer services facilities at businesses, and almost always incur a charge over and above standard call packages. This surplus goes to the companies being called, who themselves pay extra to have numbers beginning with those digits.
"We know that the public is frustrated by having to pay higher charges for these numbers, even though BT's rates were cheaper than our rivals, so we worked out a way to go further and include calls to 0870 and 0845 numbers in our call packages," John Petter, the managing director of BT's consumer business, said in a statement. "These numbers are widely used by banks, utilities and even NHS Direct, and our customers spend 30 minutes a month on average calling these numbers."
Business customers will still, however, have to pay extra to make such calls. HM Revenue & Customs uses 0845 numbers, and many companies such as Microsoft and Oracle have customer services numbers that begin with 0870.
"This is purely a consumer announcement," a BT spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "If you're a one-man-band and you're being a bit cheeky and running a business from a consumer line, you would get the effect, [but] the pricing for business and consumer is always different."
The spokesperson added that BT's business division was "looking at this to possibly do in the future", but suggested that business customers "might have different priorities" from consumers.