Understanding UK Phone Numbers & The Costs To Call From Your Mobile

November 29th, 2013

By understanding the UK’s telephone numbering scheme, you can work out how much a phone call should cost.

Phone CallIn the UK, it’s often possible to get an idea about the cost of a phone call based on its number. The most important thing to look at is the telephone number prefix: that’s the first couple of digits at the start of the phone number. The telephone number prefix dictates the cost of the call: it’ll tell you the “per minute” rate and whether the call is included on your mobile phone plan.

As a rule of thumb, inclusive minutes can only be used when calling UK landlines and UK mobile numbers (that’s phone numbers beginning in 01, 02, 03 or 07). For other numbers, you’ll need to pay more with the larger number prefixes normally relating to higher call costs (e.g. 09 numbers cost more than 08 numbers, 0870 numbers cost more than 0800 numbers).

This article discusses telephone number prefixes. We’ll highlight the phone numbers included on a standard UK mobile plan and discuss the phone numbers which will result in extra charges. Finally, we’ll present some tips on how to get the best value for money when calling a number in each category.

The UK’s Telephone Numbering Scheme

Since the year 2000, the UK has used the following telephone numbering scheme. Take the first couple of digits and match it to a prefix to find out how your call will be treated.

Prefix Type of Telephone Number
01 UK Landline (Geographical Number). In the UK, landline telephone numbers all begin with 01 or 02. The area code at the start of the number corresponds with where the landline is based (e.g. 020 for London, 0121 for Birmingham or 0161 for Manchester). You can see a full list of area codes on the Ofcom website.
✔ Pay Standard Rates or Use Inclusive Minutes
From a mobile phone, you’ll always be charged the standard rate for calling a UK landline. On bundles and contracts, you’ll be able to use your inclusive minutes.
03 UK Landline Rate (Non-Geographical Number). If you’re calling a phone number that begins with 03, you’ll always pay the standard UK landline rates. You can also use any inclusive landline minutes. Phone numbers beginning with 03 are often used by government departments or non-profit organisations.
✔ Pay Standard Rates or Use Inclusive Minutes
By law, telephone providers must charge the same for all calls made to 01, 02 and 03 numbers.
0500 UK “Freephone” (Historical). For historical reasons, some “freephone” numbers use the prefix of 0500. Nowadays, few companies are still using a 0500 number. Soon, Ofcom will withdraw the 0500 range. If you call a company using a 0500 phone number, you’ll be charged the same rates as if you were calling a 0800 or 0808 phone number.
Extra Charges May Apply When Calling From A Mobile
See 0800 and 0808 numbers.
07 UK Mobile Phones. In the UK, mobile phone numbers always begin with 07. For the most part, you’ll pay standard UK mobile rates when calling a phone number beginning with 07. Do be wary of 070 and 076 phone numbers: they’re used for personal numbering and for pagers. You’ll be charged a higher rate than when calling a mobile phone. Usually, it’s nothing to worry about as you rarely see the numbers being used.
✔ Pay Standard Rates or Use Inclusive Minutes
On most mobile phones, you’ll be charged the standard rates for calling a UK mobile. If you have inclusive minutes, you’ll be able to use them for the call. Please note: some UK networks charge more when calling a mobile rather than a landline.
0800 UK “Freephone” (Free From Landlines Only). You’ll often see 0800 or 0808 phone numbers being described as “freephone”. Please be aware that calls are only free when made from a landline. If calling from a mobile, you’ll normally be paying a lot more. Sometimes, you might pay as much as 40p/minute to call a “freephone” number. Furthermore, you can’t use inclusive minutes when calling 0800. Your mobile operator should state the charges at the beginning of your call. At present, only giffgaff and Three offer free calls to an 0800 or 0808 phone number. From the 26th June 2015, the numbers will become free from all mobile phones.
Extra Charges Normally Apply When Calling From A Mobile
If you’re using a landline, it’ll always be free to call an 0500, 0800 or 0808 phone number. When calling from a mobile, extra charges will normally apply (up to 40p/minute, see guide).
084 UK Special Services (Basic Rate). A phone number beginning with 084 is a “basic rate special service” number. 084 numbers are often used by banks and other companies. It’s usually cheaper to call one from a landline: charges can be as high as 42p/minute when calling from a mobile. In some cases, you can use the SayNoTo0870 website to find a cheaper geographical alternative.
Extra Charges Will Apply (Up to 42p/minute, see guide)
087 UK Special Services (Higher Rate). A phone number beginning with 087 is a “higher rate special service” number. It’s used by many large companies. In general, it’s better to use a landline when calling these numbers: you’ll pay as much as 42p/minute when calling from a mobile. In some cases, you can use the SayNoTo0870 website to find a cheaper geographical alternative.
Extra Charges Will Apply (Up to 42p/minute, see guide)
09 UK Premium Rate Services. In the UK, premium rate phone services always begin with 09. Prices will vary depending on the phone number but you can expect to pay up to £2.50/minute. You might need to call a 09 number when voting in TV talent shows. Phonepay Plus is the UK’s regulator for premium rate phone numbers. If you’d like to look up a phone number or to complain about charges on your bill, please refer to their website.
Extra Charges Will Apply (Up to £2.50/minute)
X Factor Premium Rate
00 International (Outside the UK). If you dial a telephone number beginning with two zeros, you’ll be making an international call outside the UK. You’ll normally need to dial two zeros followed by a country code and then the local phone number. Refer to Wikipedia for a full list of international dialling codes. On most mobile phones, the + sign (obtained by long pressing the zero button) can substitute for 00. The UK’s international dialling code is 44 (so phone numbers beginning with 0044 or +44 are actually based in the UK)
Extra Charges Apply
0044 and +44 correspond to phone numbers in the UK. For instance, 020 7946 0123 can also be written as 0044 20 7946 0123 or +44 20 8946 0123. See this article for more information.

Saving Money On Your Phone Calls

Landline Numbers (01, 02 and 03 numbers)

Most home phone plans now include unlimited weekend calls to other UK landlines. Rather than using your mobile at the weekend, try to take full advantage of your unlimited free calls. It’ll save you some precious mobile minutes: the minutes can be better used during the week or when calling other mobiles.

If you go over your monthly allowance of minutes included on your plan, you might need to pay up to 35p/minute to continue making calls. Rather than paying this, consider using a service such as Skype To Go. It costs 1.6p/minute to call a UK landline at any time.

“Freephone” Numbers (080 numbers)

BT SmartTalk

The SmartTalk application allows BT customers to make free 0800 calls.

If you’re calling an 0800 or 0808 number, the obvious way to save money is to use your landline instead of a mobile phone. Alternatively, choose a mobile operator that doesn’t charge for 0800 or 0808 phone calls (giffgaff is a great choice, grab a free SIM card here).

Customers of BT and Virgin have one more option. Install the BT SmartTalk or Virgin SmartCall applications on your phone. You’ll pay standard landline rates when making a call through the app. You’ll get free 0800 calls when using the applications.

Premium-Rate Numbers (09 numbers)

Many competitions and TV reality shows require you to call a premium rate phone number. In some cases, it’s possible to enter the competition or to vote without calling the number. Check the small print for alternative ways to enter: sometimes you can go online or send a short e-mail.

International Numbers (00 numbers)

If you’re calling internationally, never pay the standard rates charged by your mobile network. It could cost you up to £1.50/minute and even a short call could leave you with a shockingly large bill. You can cut the costs of calling abroad by opting in to a relevant deal. Often, there’s a free opt-in package and there’s noting to lose by signing up to the plan.

To give an example, Vodafone normally charges £1.00/minute to call European countries and £1.50/minute to call a country in the rest of the world. With the Vodafone International add-on, charges drop to as little as 5p/minute. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t get” offer: you simply need to opt-in to benefit from the rates.

Another way to call abroad for less is to use a voice-over-IP solution such as Skype To Go. It’ll work on any network providing you have a fast enough connection. International phone calls can cost as little as just 1.4p/minute.

Many thanks to Ian Galpin for providing a number of corrections and modifications to this article.


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About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 2 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Richard said:


    You need to check costs when calling Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. These start 01 but are not included in free call time from mobiles and out of bundle charges will be applied. I got caught out by this and it led to a nasty bill.


    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for the heads up: you make a really good point! For the reference of anyone reading this article, the following telephone prefixes correspond to numbers in the Channel Islands or Isle of Man:

      Jersey: 01534, 07509, 07700, 07797, 07829, 07937
      Guernsey: 01481, 07781, 07839, 07911
      Isle of Man: 01624, 07524, 07624, 07924

      If you call one of these prefixes, you might be charged extra.


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