Telephone calls to customer services can be an ordeal. Minutes on hold, then garbled advice or redirections to other departments. Many of these so-called helplines are on 0870 and 0845 numbers, which are advertised, misleadingly, as national and local-rate numbers but cost significantly more than standard landlines.

Infuriated that companies were charging over the odds for support, a Lancashire computer expert, known publicly only as Daniel, founded the free Saynoto0870.com website, which lists more than 5,000 standard-rate “geographic” company numbers, submitted by himself and hundreds of internet users.

Daniel realised that most companies that use 08 numbers also have geographic customer service lines with codes starting 01 or 02, which they advertise to overseas customers who cannot access 08 lines. There is nothing to stop UK customers dropping the country code and calling these standard-rate numbers to make a substantial saving. Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, says that many customers do not realise the cost of these 08 numbers.

Simon Bates, of Ofcom, says: “There is still a perception that 0845 and 0870 numbers are relatively cheap. But the cost of making calls to geographic numbers has fallen fast.” Customers paying by the minute can expect to spend between 7p and 9p a minute for calls to an 0870 number, against 3p for calls to a standard landline. Daniel points out that many people have all-inclusive telephone packages for a fixed monthly fee. Most of these exclude calls to nongeographic numbers, the most common of which are 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871. A customer with a typical all-in package would pay about £1.50 extra for a 20-minute daytime call to an 0870 number and nothing extra for the same call to a standard-rate number. Saynoto0870 can be searched by company name or 08 number.

Search for HSBC, for instance, to find that the bank’s customer services on 0845 7404404 can also be contacted on the standard-rate 01266 261010.

One fan of the website is Stephen Tall, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Headington, Oxford, who used his weblog to recommend the site to residents complaining to Royal Mail about poor service on an 0845 number. He says: “A student in my ward spent £27 calling the 0870 line. Now he can call for a fraction of that.” Royal Mail says that it does not generate revenue from its 0845 customer services line.

An online petition is open to sign at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/saynoto0870/

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