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0870 numbers 'a rip-off'

Energy companies and banks are among the companies criticised in a new report which claims that consumers are being forced to dial expensive premium-rate numbers for customer service.A survey of around 1,000 people by Which? found that most were unaware of the costs involved in dialing 0870 â€" one of the most expensive corporate numbers.The consumer group said there was "huge confusion" over how much it cost to use 0845, 0844, 0870 and 0871 numbers and accused companies of profiteering by keeping their customers on hold for long periods on premium-rate lines.According to industry watchdog Icstis consumers spend more than £300 million a year dialing 0871 numbers alone, with revenues from those calls and other premium-rate services split between the companies contacted and telecom providers.Utility firm npower was identified by Which? as the worst offender for making money as a result of keeping its customers on hold.The energy provider kept researchers from the consumer body on hold for an average of seven minutes â€" a call which would cost its customers up to £1.05 if they called the company from their mobile phone.Alliance & Leicester and Lloyds TSB were also slammed in the report for using expensive 0870 lines to provide debt advice to their customers.Commenting on the research, Which? editor Neil Fowler said: "Revenue-sharing is a stealth tax of the worst kind."Tales of customers hanging on for ages at huge expense when they are trying to place an order, or even make a complaint, are numerous."Which? is now urging businesses to switch to a cheaper 03 number which will be launched by telecoms regulator Ofcom later this year and which, unlike premium-rate lines, will not be revenue-sharing.

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