In July 2015, Ofcom, the UK regulatory body announced that 0800 or 0808 are free to call from mobile phones. While this was lauded as an essential win for UK consumers, some account holders were puzzled with so many questions.

  • What does this change mean for me as a current or prospective account Holder of 0800 number?
  • Should I retain my existing number or should I switch to a 03 number?
  • With more calls now made from mobile phones than from landlines to 0800 service lines, are there any benefits of having the 08xx over the 03xx?

0800 and 03 numbers often referred to as business numbers, are virtual numbers that are mostly used by organisations to increase interaction with their customers or clients.

Both 0800 and 03 numbers are only inbound numbers which mean that they can only be used to receive incoming calls and not for outbound/outgoing calls. However, they can be presented as a caller ID within the UK; it is recommended to use local/geographical number as caller ID if you dial overseas destinations as some foreign carriers may not be able to pass 0800 or 03 number as correct caller ID.

These virtual numbers are non-geographic, which means that they are not localised to any area or region within the UK. As an account holder of a 0800 or 03 number your callers can reach you without knowing whether you are a local or national business which improves your perception as a business with a broader national reach.

0800 and 03 numbers both have similar features and are configured the same way. You can assign them to any softphone, IVR or group of users in a Queue or Ring group.

0800 Numbers

0800 Numbers are also known as free numbers because the account holder of the number is solely responsible for the cost of calls/call rates. From the caller’s perspective, all calls are free of charge from landlines and mobile phones.

Many large organisations within the UK use free phone numbers to eliminate any economic barrier to customer contact. 0800 numbers are usually associated with Helplines, Charities and Government Agencies but can also be used by businesses to encourage customer contact.

Due to the account holder bearing the cost of all calls to 0800 numbers, the number is mostly used by large organisations or companies who have enough budget to cover the call charges.

Not all 08 numbers are free to call numbers. There are other variations of the 08-number range that attract call charges to the caller namely:

  • 084 - Call charges to 084 numbers consist of two parts - access charge which is the cost of connecting the call (generally paid to the service provider), and a service charge determined by the company or account holder receiving the call and must be stated clearly by the organisation you are calling.
  • 087 is very similar to 084 numbers. 087 numbers also consist of access charge and service charge which are charged to the caller.

084 and 087 numbers are often referred to as premium numbers. These chargeable numbers are used by account holders to cover the cost of their service to you or generate additional revenue. As part of Ofcom’s Draft Bill on Consumer Rights, 084 and 087 numbers are prohibited for use for receiving customer service or customer complaints; hence it is rarely used by many organisations. Before using 084 or 087, you should ensure that it complies with the Bill on Consumer Rights.

03 Numbers

03 Numbers provide an excellent alternative for organisations who want to encourage customer contact while reducing the cost of the more expensive 0800 numbers.

For the caller, call rates to 03 numbers should be identical to the cost of a local call to home/geographic numbers like 01 or 02.

For the owner of 03 number inbound calls are also usually free or included as part of the monthly service package.

03 numbers are mainly designed for businesses that want to provide a local point of contact for their customers nationally, regardless of their location within the UK.

There are some usage restrictions associated with the allocation of 03 numbers, such as:

  • 03xx numbers (0300-0309) – Exclusively for Public Enterprises and Not-For-Profit Organisations
  • 033x numbers (0330-0339) - Available for use by any business or organisation
  • 03xx migration (034X, 037X) – Exclusive for migration purposes (from an existing 08 number or range (084x and 087x)

03 numbers become increasingly popular among UK business owners due to its lower cost of ownership, free inbound calls and nationwide coverage allowing people from any part of the country to dial at the cost of a local call. 03 numbers also don’t have the negativity associated with 08xx premium numbers. In the past, some consumers were tricked by thinking they are dialing a free phone number, while in reality, they were dialing premium 084x or 087x number.   

Which Number is Right for Me?

Finding the type of virtual number that is right for your business depends on the size of your business, the volume of inbound calls expected and your revenue. Because the inbound call rates of 03 are free for the account holder and the caller only pays the price of a local call, these numbers are a perfect fit for small to medium-sized enterprises that do not want to incur significant monthly telephone bills. However, since these numbers are not free to call, some customers may not call unless they are willing to bear the cost. 

On the other hand, 0800 numbers are free to call (Toll-free numbers), which removes any financial barrier to customer interaction. The call rates are paid solely by the Account holder and are particularly suitable for big corporations, government organisations that would like to remove any financial barriers for the caller.


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