Banks Urged To End Expensive Phone Charges
High street banks, credit card companies and insurers are being urged to cut high-rate customer lines after a study found almost three quarters are costly 084 or 087 numbers.
Which? found that 177 out of 242 customer or complaints lines for financial services such as current accounts, loans and credit cards - or 73% - were premium-rate numbers.
The companies included leading high street banks and building societies such as HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and TSB Bank, credit card providers American Express, Capital One and Tesco Bank and insurers Aviva, Churchill and Direct Line.
The watchdog found that four in 10 people (39%) prefer to call financial firms with an inquiry and nearly a third (31%) would rather complain by phone.
However, nearly all of the credit card providers studied (95%) use 084 or 087 numbers for complaints or customer service help lines, and 89% of current account providers use them for complaints or customer service help lines.
Existing customers are also being charged more than new ones, with free 0800 numbers used for 52% of sales or new customer lines compared with just 26% for existing customers and 21% for complaints.
Populus surveyed 2,070 adults online between August 30 and September 1.
Barclays and Barclaycard have announced they will offer a freephone or basic rate number for all customer help lines, while NatWest and RBS are also dropping costly calls.
Which? has called on other providers to follow their example.
The EU Consumer Rights Directive ban on the use of expensive numbers for customer help lines comes into force next year, but financial firms are excluded.
Which? is calling on the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to clarify existing rules to stop financial services companies from using high rate numbers on complaints lines, and change the rules so they also cover customer help lines.
The watchdog's executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Millions of us prefer to deal with our bank on the phone, yet we are expected to cough up for a costly call when we do.
"It's not right that financial companies are being let off the hook."
Ashok Vaswani, chief executive of Barclays Retail and Business Banking, said: "For many customers the telephone is the most convenient way in which to contact us, so it's right that we have taken this step to ensure that no customer need dial a premium or high rate number simply to speak to us."
A British Bankers' Association spokesman said: "We expect to see many banks changing to use local numbers for complaints in the near future and it is good to see that some banks have already committed to doing so."