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The true cost of Directory Enquiries

3rd of May, 2011

Consumers bewildered by call costs

  • 84% of a poll underestimate the cost of calling a 118 number
  • Calling directory enquiries on a mobile can cost over £6.00
  • Ofcom demands simpler call charges
  • 192.com saves consumers £175 million per-year in free directory enquiries

As Ofcom demands simplified call charges for 118 numbers, free directory enquiries provider 192.com finds consumers dramatically underestimating the costs of directory calls.

Sixty-six percent of a 192.com poll thought 118 calls cost less than a pound.[1] However according to Ofcom, calling 118 numbers from a mobile can cost up to six times this for a three minute call on a mobile tariff.[2]

A typical 45 second 118 call costs £1.75[3] from a landline, and phone bills can soar depending on the service provider and call duration. Acknowledging these variables, 192.com research reveals the following call charges to 118118 and 118500:[4]

45 Second Call
(typical call for a number)
Call with 5 minutes of call completion
Call Costs Landline TMobile Orange Vodafone O2 Landline TMobile Orange Vodafone O2
118118 £1.61 £2.04 £1.91 £2.00 £1.53 £3.71 £12.24 £4.74 £12.00 £8.80
118500 £1.88 £2.04 £1.91 £2.00 £1.53 £8.83 £12.24 £4.74 £12.00 £8.80

Against these prices, 192.com's research revealed the perceived costs of calling 118, showing the disparity between the hope and reality. Noting the respondent's perceived 118 cost of calls from mobiles and landlines, the research found 92% underestimated the cost of calling 118 numbers from a mobile, believing the cost would be less than £2.00. Eighty-five percent thought 118 numbers cost less than they actually do from a landline. Combined responses to the poll are below:

Perceived costs of a 118 call from mob/land Poll response
0 - 50p 31.9%
51p - £1 35.2%
£1.01 - £1.49 17.30%
£1.50 - £2.00 9.6%
£2 - £2.50 2.8%
£2.50 - £3.00 0.7%
£3.00 - £4.00 0.2%
£4.00 - £6+ 2.2%

Forty five percent of 192.com's poll said they called 118 numbers from a mobile phone, and 70% said they called 118 from a home phone. Sixteen percent use their office phone and 9% use a company mobile.

Dominic Blackburn, Product Director of 192.com advises money-savers to access free directory enquiries and business listings on 192.com. "Whether you're looking up a business or searching for a residential number, it's free on 192.com. We have over 11 million business and residential directory enquiry records which include Bing Maps and property prices. The three million more users we've had over the last year suggests savvy consumers are coming to us to save money on expensive 118 calls."

Ofcom's consultation aims to alleviate the confusion surrounding the cost of calling 118, suggesting simpler pricing for non-geographic numbers and standardising phone company and service provider charges.

Responses to Ofcom's consultation closed in March, with the regulator noting declining consumer confidence in non-geographic numbers coinciding with increased mobile use. This results in 'bill shock' as people receive 'far higher bills than they expected.' To illustrate this, Ofcom cited the example of a man who was charge £350 for a 118 call and connection request from a landline in 2009.[5]

In 2009 directory calls cost consumers an estimated £500million a year, 5 with low income households particularly exposed because many don't have landlines. According to Ofcom, 26% of lower-socio-economic groups rely on mobiles for making high cost, non-geographic calls compared to 9% of ABC1 households.[5]

The spiralling costs of directory enquiries began in 2003 when Ofcom opened up the directory enquiries market to new firms, with the goal of increasing competition, and ironically, reducing costs to consumers.

By 2005 just two directory enquiry numbers controlled 80% of the market. BT (118 500) and The Number (118 118), charging, according to the National Audit Office, 51 pence and 56 pence respectively from a BT land line[6] . Directory enquiry calls can now cost three times this, exceeding £1.75 from most landlines - an over 300% increase in costs.[3]

In 2009, consumers spent £500 million calling 'service and information providers,' which includes 118 and directory enquiries.[5] By contrast 192.com has saved consumers £175 million per-year. This figure is derived from the proportion of 192.com's 5.4 million users a month who use the site to access free directory enquiries.

"We are now the fastest growing online directory in the UK, and as more consumers gravitate towards us they'll take advantage of the savings they can make, consigning expensive directory calls to the past," explains Blackburn.


  1. 1.0 192.com poll Online poll of 2,144 192.com customers conducted between March 9 and March 25 2011. Four hundred respondents responded to the question about directory enquiry tariffs.
  2. 2.0 Ofcom, in the document 'Simplifying Non Geographic numbers' December 16-March 10 http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/simplifying-non-geo-numbers/summary/non-geo.pdf
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cost of a 118 500 BT call from a landline is £1.39 per-minute, or a part of this minute plus a connection charge of 49p. Calling 118118 from a landline cots £1.29 plus 0.42p per minute from most landlines. We therefore calculate that directory enquiry calls from landlines can cost an average of £1.75.
    118500 costs: http://www.bt118500.com
    118118 pricing: http://www.118.com/our-products.mvc
  4. 4.0 The costs of calling 118118 and 18500 from a variety of providers and for a range of durations was calculated using data available on the provider's individual websites, full calculations on request.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Ofcom Consultation Document: 'Simplifying Non-Geographic Numbers, improving consumer confidence in 03,08,09,118 and other non-geographic numbers'. Publication, December 16, closing date for responses March 2011.
  6. 6.0 Politics.co.uk 'Consumers see few benefits for 192 deregulation' March 2005

About 192.com

192.com Limited evolved from UK Info disk, when BT's Directory Enquires were made available on a CD-Rom. 192.com bought the domain name 192, the old code for directory enquiries and became the UK's most awarded online directory, helping find people, businesses and places for four million users every month. On 192.com, users can search almost 700 million records including free directory enquiries, electoral roll information, local business records, interactive mapping, aerial photography and property reports. 192.com has won best online at the 118 Tracker awards for the past seven years and was described at as 'the site that changed the web for ever' by Net Magazine. 192.com has launched i192, a free app for iPhones supplying free directory enquiries.

For more information contact the 192.com Press Office.