Consumer champion Direct Save Telecom is demanding connection charge clarity from all providers after many of their customers are unwittingly fleeced by undisclosed high call connection charges while calling directory services such as 118 118.
Complaints such as this have become widespread since Ofcom opened up the directory enquiries market in 2003. It was hoped that increased competition would drive down the prices of calls, but in reality the opposite has happened and costs have jumped dramatically.
Money saving online forums are full of people complaining about high telecom bills as a result of directory enquiries. A quick search on websites such as moneysavingexpert.com illustrates the confusion and the contempt people have for these ‘rip off’ services. One user complained in April of this year that her elderly mother was charged £37 for a 23 minute call as a result of being connected by 118 118. In total her mother had spent over £200 on these services, but did not have a clue how much it was costing her. Another user blasted 118 118 for charging her £4 for a two minute local rate call to her nearby hairdresser.
Direct Save is trying to prevent this from happening by monitoring their customers’ bills and warning them of high call charges before they mount up into an astronomical bill. If there is any fluctuation or abnormal activity on a bill, a member of Direct Save’s UK based customer care team contacts the client in question to make sure they are made aware of it.
Direct Save customer, Avril Ellis, from Loughborough, who has been a customer with Direct Save Telecom since September 2009, had a bad experience recently when her son dialled 118 118 Directory Services. A call that should have cost just 79p ended up costing over £11 for a 7 minute call because he agreed to be directly connected. There was no warning from the service that connection would be charged at a high call rate.
Mrs Ellis explains: “My son, Tom, dialled a directory enquiries service to get a telephone number, and was put straight through to the number and we did not think anymore about it. We knew you were charged for this service, but were astonished to find out how much it cost for them to connect us.
“It really is shocking, there is no warning or anything telling you about the high connection charges, so it is surely just a deceitful ploy to rip people off. There will be many more people than us who will be found out by this, as it is just natural to assume that connection is part of the service. My son was especially annoyed, as he would never have been put through if he had known the costs.
“We were delighted to hear from Direct Save, as we would still be in the dark if they had not flagged this up. We now know not to do it again, and others need to be warned as well. This really is a fantastic service that Direct Save provides, they really do look out for their customers’ needs. I am not sure if other companies do this, but if they don’t they certainly should.
Mrs Ellis adds: “It was such a shock when I heard about what had happened, it may not seem like a lot of money to some people, but you only have to make the mistake a couple of times and your phone bill will double or triple in size. I’m shocked that these companies are allowed get away with this without giving any warning, it really is just a rip off and a dishonest ploy to make some money from unsuspecting members of the public.”
Another Direct Save customer, Lisa Pegg of Bournemouth, was also grateful to receive a warning call recently explaining the high cost call that she had made a few days earlier would have been free if she had not been directly connected.
Mrs Pegg said “I thought the 118118 operator was being so helpful when they offered to connect the call, they didn’t tell me it would be so expensive. They won’t catch me out again.”
Direct Save Telecom’s CEO, Stavros Tsolakis, feels that these services have to be regulated better to put an end to customer confusion. He is also demanding that prior warnings are given to customers before they are hit with high rate connection charges.
“The big problem is people do not know how much these services cost, and then are astonished when they are hit with a huge telecom bill. This is what we at Direct Save are trying to prevent. It is simply not fair that there are no prior warnings about the high rate connection charges. Callers are agreeing to be connected blissfully unaware how much it is going to cost them. We have to put an end to the confusion.
Tsolakis adds: “Direct Save monitors all their customers’ phone trends so we can see if anything irregular is occurring. This is exactly what happened with Mrs Ellis, she normally has a very stable call pattern and then suddenly this £11 call came out of nowhere. So a member of our team called her to bring this to her attention. She had no idea about the high connection charges, and neither did her son.
“She is just one example of the customers we have helped. Customer service is very important to us, and this is why we take the time to closely monitor them all. Yes, it is time consuming, but it is also a big plus for them that they know we are helping to protect them against needlessly high call charges.