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24th of March, 2015

Why are government departments wasting money on 118 numbers?

An investigation by BBC Radio 4's You and Yours has discovered that some government departments are spending thousands of pounds on calling Directory Enquiries, despite the same information being available free on 192.com.

According to the report, one government department called 118 numbers over 10,000 times in order to get hold of a freely listed phone number. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent over £15,000 calling 118 numbers in the last 12 months.

A DWP spokesman said; 118 calls were only used as a "last resort" and "staff are advised to use internet services first."

192.com is the UK's leading free online directory and is used by millions of people monthly. It provides a free, dedicated UK based customer service team for anyone requiring search advice. Meaning 192.com is offering to work closely with all affected departments in a bid to help them cut costs and be more effective, so there is no excuse for government departments to be spending vast sums of money on 118 numbers.

Dominic Blackburn, Product Director of 192.com added: "The Government is preaching austerity whilst wasting thousands of pounds on services that we provide free of charge. 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 including maps and phone numbers. Our 10 million users are smart enough not to waste money on expensive 118 calls - why shouldn't government departments follow suit?"

The BBC also found that HM Revenue and Customs spent £12,065 last year, and £26,753 over the past three years making 43,552 calls, while the Passport Office spent £19,132 over the past three years, calling the services more than 5,000 times.

The cost of 118 phone calls can sky-rocket if you allow the provider to connect you to the number: in one case it reportedly cost more than £54 for a call as staff stayed connected for more than 30 minutes.

The department said that in a tiny proportion of cases staff needed to use directory enquiries to verify information and "support the processing of applications".

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.

In 2009, consumers spent £500 million calling "service and information providers", which includes 118 and directory enquiries. In contrast 192.com has worked to save consumers in excess of £175 million per year by offering the directory online for free.

Dominic Blackburn added: "Consumers are taking advantage of savings via 192.com - it's a disgrace that government departments are not doing the same."