Directory enquiry service 118 118 charges just under £9 for a one-minute call – even though it also offers a little known freephone number.
The company – famous for its TV adverts featuring moustachioed brothers in running vests – offers a free 0800 1183733 line, although callers have to listen to adverts before they can get the number they want.
Parent company, The Number UK, spends millions pushing the 118 118 number – which charges a minimum connection fee of £4.49 per call, plus £4.49 per minute thereafter.
In addition, customers will be charged an access charge per minute by the company that bills them for calls.
So, if someone is on the line to 118 118 for ten minutes, chasing down a number, they can expect to be billed almost £49.
However, 118 118 also has a service that charges £1 per call. On its website, the firm says: “118 811 is a simplified and low cost version of our directory service. One search = one fixed fee.”
While the majority of smartphone users will use the internet to track down a number, many older people still use directory enquiry services to get details of local tradespeople, for example.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “Ultimately, it’s a question of fairness, which means those who don’t, or can’t, use the internet should have access to an affordable alternative.”
In 2015, telecoms regulator Ofcom changed the pricing model for numbers beginning with 118, 084 and 087.
Companies now have to make clear they charge a flat-rate connection fee, plus a per-minute service charge.
Years ago, the only directory enquiry service was provided by BT through its 192 number. Now there are more than 400 directory enquiry numbers, ranging from 35p per call to more than £15 a minute.
The Number UK has been approached for comment.