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 (phone numbers beginning in 01, 02, 03 and 07). Phone numbers beginning with 084, 087 and 09 are special-rate numbers and will cost you more to call. Phone numbers beginning with 0800 and 0808 will always be free to call.

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, non-profit organisations, banks and customer service lines.
✔ 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” (No Longer In Use). Historically, some “freephone” numbers used the 0500 prefix. As of June 2017, the 0500 numbers have been withdrawn and will no longer work.
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, however, be wary of 070 and 076 phone numbers: they’re used for personal numbering and pagers. You’ll be charged a higher rate when calling these numbers.
✔ 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.
Excludes 070 and 076 Phone Numbers
Phone numbers beginning with 070 and 076 are classed as personal numbers and pagers. You’ll pay up to £1.50/minute when calling them from your mobile. You shouldn’t return a missed call from these numbers.
0800 UK “Freephone”. From July 1st 2015, it’s free to call an 0800 or 0808 phone number from all UK phones (both landline and mobile). Prior to this, 0800 and 0808 phone numbers were only free when calling from a landline.
✔ Free from both landlines & mobiles
As of July 2015, it’s always free to call an 0800 and 0808 phone number.
084 UK Special Numbers. A phone number beginning with either 084 or 087 is a “special service” number. The cost of calling a special number is split into two parts: an access charge which goes to your phone provider and a service charge which goes to the company running the phone number. The access charge varies by network – see this page for more information.
Extra Charges Will Apply
You aren’t able to use your inclusive minutes. You’ll pay an access charge to your phone provider as well as a service charge to the company running the number.
09 UK Premium Rate Services. In the UK, premium rate phone services always begin with 09. 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. As with 084 and 087 numbers, the charge is split up into an access charge and service charge.
Extra Charges Will Apply
You aren’t able to use your inclusive minutes. You’ll pay an access charge to your phone provider as well as a service charge to the company running the number.
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 7946 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 inclusive landline 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 55p/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.

Special Rate Phone Numbers (084, 087 & 09 numbers)

When calling an 084, 087 or 09 phone number, the charge is split up into an access charge and service charge. Unfortunately, the service charge is fixed by the company you’re calling. However, it’s possible to save money by choosing a phone company with a lower access charge. Presently, ASDA Mobile has the lowest per-minute access charge at just 8p/minute.

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: even a short phone call could leave you with a shockingly large bill. You can cut the costs of calling abroad by choosing a good network for international calling.

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.

Like this tip? Get the most from your mobile phone...

  • Discover brand new ways to use your mobile phone
  • Techniques to get more out of your mobile phone for less
  • Be the first to learn about new mobile technology

Enter your email to receive free regular Ken's Tech Tips:

About Ken

Ken Lo

My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.

Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 18 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Ian said:

    The 0500 range no longer exists.

    The last numbers were de-activated late afternoon on 5th June 2017.

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Ian,
      Many thanks for the heads up about this – I’ve just updated the article above to reflect this information.

  2. Ian said:

    PhonepayPlus (PPP) changed their name to the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA). They regulate services using numbers starting 070, 087, 090, 091, 098 and 118 plus various mobile sbortcodes. They also regulate all chatlines, adult services and internet dialled-operated services irrespective of call or message cost or prefix used.

    1. Ian replied:

      Another update for the article…

      PhonepayPlus (PPP) changed their name to the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA). They regulate services using numbers starting 070, 087, 090, 091, 098 and 118 plus various mobile shortcodes. They also regulate all chatlines, adult services and internet dialler-operated services irrespective of call or message cost or prefix used.

  3. JUSTIN said:

    ARE calls received on a UK mobile phone free to the recipient?

    1. Ken replied:

      Hi Justin,
      Yes – it’s always free to receive a phone call in the UK (that’s assuming of course you’re using a UK SIM card). The only time when you’ll need to pay to pick up the phone is when you’re travelling abroad in another country.
      Hope this helps,

      1. JUSTIN replied:

        Thanks, Ken. Your information is enlightening. I appreciate your response to my question, especially because you know what you’re talking about.

Load more comments (11)

Leave a Reply

E-Mail Notifications: By default, I'll drop you an e-mail when there's a reply to your comment. If you don't want to receive such a notification, please select the "Don't Subscribe" option from the dropdown menu above.