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Phone Service Supply

Finance Central provides advice for those of you who need help in choosing a telecoms provider.

Phone Service Supply

You can now choose between a range of phone service providers for phone lines and equipment for telephone handsets, switchboards and faxes. Most choose BT but other phone service providers now include and Energis Communications (business customers only), and many other cable phone service companies.

Normal Contracts

When you have a telephone installed you will be given an application form which will show what both the provider and the customer will agree to in the contract. You may have to agree to a minimum contract term of say one year. If you want to terminate the line rental before the term expires, you will usually have to pay the entire year's rental if you signed the contract. If you think that the terms in a contract are unacceptable then consult an experienced adviser.

Finding a Phone Service Provider

Before you choose a provider find out what services are available and how much they will cost you. Find the rental cost of the equipment, call and line charges and extra facilities like call waiting. Find out if there are cheaper rates for particular payment methods like direct debit. What standards the providers offer for repairs, or extra help for older or disabled customers. Also find out the providers’ policies on debt and disconnection. Every phone service company has a Code of Practice that covers things like maintenance, repairs, disconnection and procedures for any complaints. Find out the companies Code of Practice before choosing a provider.

Connection and Installation Charges

You may have to pay charges up front before your phone equipment is installed or connected. If there is not already a phone in your home, or if the phone line needs to be re-connected. Additional equipment like extensions to existing installations, new plugs or extra bells will have to be paid for in advance.

Phone Service Deposits

Providers sometimes ask for a deposit before giving you a phone service. You might have to pay a deposit if you have a court order against you for non-payment. Even if they do not charge a deposit, a provider can limit the amount of calls you may make. As soon as a certain level of calls have been made a bill will be sent. Before you agree to have phone service supplied, they may make credit checks using a credit reference agency. If the provider does charge a deposit they will notify you of this and the amount you must pay. Deposits will be held by the provider for a certain period. If you establish a good payment record the deposit will be credited against future bills. If the provider asks for a deposit and you feel it is too high or if you should not this at all, consult an experienced adviser.

Obtaining the Right Phone Equipment

You can rent or buy your phone equipment and you can get details from the sales office of the company. First check that any equipment you buy is approved for connection to the United Kingdom public telephone network. It is best to check this as providers may remove any unapproved phone equipment from their network. Approved equipment is currently marked with a green dot. The provider will not have responsibility for equipment that was not bought or rented from them.

Contracts for Maintenance

Contracts for the rental of equipment can include conditions about free repairs. The provider can also offer a range of additional maintenance services for quick emergency repairs. Normally you will have to pay extra for these unless the phone provider gives you exemptions. BT does not currently charge extra to customers who are very severely disabled.

Directory Enquiries and Telephone Directories

British Telecom produce phone directories and you can choose not be included in the directory if you do not want general access to your phone number. There is no charge for a listing in the telephone directory. If you are in the directory, your number will also be available from companies which deal with enquiries about telephone numbers. These enquiry companies charge for their services, unless a person is disabled. Disabled phone users must register with the phone service provider before they are eligible.

Phone Service Repairs

Every phone service provider differs on repairs and you will need to check the provider’s Code of Practice. Codes of Practice on phone repairs usually cover issues such as whether there is a time limit during which repairs should be started once a problem has been reported and whether the faults found are repaired free of charge. This is usually the case unless the provider decides the fault was caused by the customer. If you have problems with repairs consult an experienced adviser.

Insurance Policies and Claiming the Cost of Repairs

Sometimes you can claim on your house contents insurance for the cost of replacing or repairing damaged equipment if this is not provided free of charge by the phone service provider. Check your insurance policy to find out if there is an excess or loss of no-claims bonus since the cost of replacing damaged telephone equipment is normally quite low.

Compensation When a Service is Unavailable

If your phone is out of order for more than a specified time after being reported, you may have a right to a rebate on the standing charge. Providers may also have to pay you compensation for the time when their service was not available. You will find this information in the providers Code of Practice. If you are having trouble with compensation and rebates then consult an experienced adviser.


The Right to be Supplied a Phone Service

British Telecom is obliged to provide a phone service to anyone who asks for it, unless a customer has been in debt with them before. In this case, they can refuse to provide a new service. Sometimes if a customer lives remote, the price of providing a phone service may be very high, and the person may not be able to pay the full connection cost. No other phone service providers have an obligation to provide a phone service. If British Telecom refuse to provide a phone line or the cost seems very high, consult an experienced adviser.

Obtaining a Phone Line or Changing Phone Service Providers

Inform the phone service provider if you want a new phone line installed and tell them the date you want it to start. This can be done over the phone but you will then also need to make a written application. If you need to change your provider notify both the current and new providers. If the provider agrees to supply services, the terms and conditions of supplying the line will be set out in the providers terms and conditions. These services must be provided within a reasonable time. If the provider does not supply the services as set out in the contract, the company will be in breach of contract. If you need information or advice about changing to a new phone service provider, you could consider contacting Ofcom. They can give information about what to check when considering whether to change to a new phone service provider, and a list of licensed phone service providers in your particular area. Ofcom are independent and cannot recommend a service provider.

Carrier Pre-Selection (CPS)

Carrier pre-selection is a service that allows a British Telecom customer to make calls using another phone company. You can do this by dialling a short code or freephone number on your phone and then dialling the number. You can also have an adaptor that allows calls to be diverted to another phone number without your having to dial a code first. Carrier pre-selection must be made available to BT customers. Other companies like mobile phone companies can choose if they want to make it available to their customers. Some types of call are not included in Carrier pre-selection, emergency numbers, directory enquiries, operator assistance and Internet access.

You will not have to make every call using CPS. You may want to use a CPS provider for international calls but another provider for local calls. In this case once you have arranged to have international calls put through via a provider, you dial the code for that provider before dialling the number. You can usually choose four options for CPS: national calls only, national and international calls, international calls only and 'all calls', which includes, local, international, national and mobile phone calls. British Telecom still own, run and send you the bills for your phone line. Your phone number will not change but you will get a separate bill for call charges from each phone company that you use.


Number Portability

Phone service providers allow customers to keep their phone numbers when changing their provider. This is number portability and only applies if you are changing the phone service provider you use without changing your address. Other providers offer additional services where a customer may change address and provider but still keep the same phone number. Providers are not obliged to offer number portability but if they do they may make a reasonable charge.

About Phone Bills

The Phone Bill and Who is Responsible?

The name on the account is responsible for the phone bill. Providers will allow only one person to be named on an account. Other service providers allow joint names and in this case each of the joint named account holders are responsible for the bill and may be contacted for payment. If you have a very high phone bill as a result of calls made by someone who is not a joint account holder, like a friend or a lodger, it is your job to pursue that person for the money. If the calls were made to premium rate services you could also contact the regulator PhonepayPlus for help with claiming compensation.


Sometimes landlords put a payphone put into a property. The landlord is responsible for the rental and for paying the phone service provider for calls made. Some payphones can be programmed with a special scale of charges. This can be a lot higher than public payphone charges but the landlord must display the charges on or near the payphone.


Disputing the Bill

Service providers usually offer itemised billing which shows the date, duration, time and cost of calls costing more than a certain amount. It can also show all the calls that you make. Check with your provider to see if it offers these services, and if there are any costs as this will help you to minimise disputes about the size of the phone bill.

You may think that a bill is too high. It is actually very rare for phone equipment to give wrong information but it is possible for there to be a fault. Sometimes a handset may be faulty and fail to disconnect at the end of a call or you may not replace a handset correctly. If you need to dispute the bill, consult an experienced adviser.


Every provider has their own policy on disconnections and it is necessary that you refer to the Code of Practice written in your contract. If a phone bill has not been paid the provider will normally send a reminder. Depending on the provider’s Code of Practice, you will have a certain amount of time within which to pay the bill before disconnection. When you receive the reminder it is better to either post a cheque directly to the provider or pay directly to the company. Payments through the post office or bank may take several days to process and during this time you could be disconnected.

If you dispute the phone bill, you should pay the amount you think you owe and send a letter to the providers stating why have done this which should prevent your disconnection at this stage. If your phone line has been disconnected and you want it to be reconnected, the phone service provider will normally make a charge for reconnection. If you are having disconnection problems consult an experienced adviser.

Phones for the Disabled

Social Services Help

Someone who is assessed under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 as having a need, may get help with telephone charges. Local authorities will pay for installation, others will pay for the rental costs. If you are disabled and need further information about help with telephone charges, consult an experienced adviser.

Rural Areas

Phones in Remote Areas

There is a standard charge for running a phone line into a property and installing a phone. But if you live some distance from the nearest cable the provider may charge for part or all of the cost of laying new cable, poles etc. Contact the service provider for details of how near you are to other customers or phone cables and the costs of connection.

Access to Land for Repairs and Installation

When a provider wants to install cables, pylons, telephone lines or other equipment they must get permission in writing from the land owners concerned including land needed for access. If you refuse permission for a provider to carry out an installation, it can apply to get permission from a court. If you want more information about installation of telephone equipment on your land, consult an experienced adviser.

Nuisance Calls

Stop Unsolicited Calls

Marketing companies are banned from making unsolicited calls to people who have registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). You can get further information about TPS at Marketing companies in the European Union are not allowed to send unsolicited faxes to anyone who has not given their consent to receive faxes from the company and this is the case whether or not they have registered with the Fax Preference Service.

Obscene or Malicious Calls

Making obscene, harassing or malicious calls may be a criminal offence. Report these to the police. The police can authorise the phone service to trace these calls. But if the person who is making the calls is prosecuted, you may have to give evidence in court. The providers usually have procedures with which deal these calls. Check the phone service provider’s Code of Practice.



Itemised phone bills list any calls to telephone helplines which means that other people in the household will be able to see that you have phoned a helpline. Providers supply a last number redial service, which means that other members of the household can check the last telephone number that was called. Some providers itemise only calls above a certain limit and so, to protect confidentiality, you could make a very brief call to a helpline and ask them to call you back. Most helplines that do this do not use caller display equipment and they withhold their number when making or returning calls to customers. Calls to freephone numbers beginning 0800 or 0500 are not itemised on the phone bill unless made through a switchboard. If you do not want the helpline to know your telephone number, you should dial 141 before entering the helpline number.

Caller Return and Caller Display

Phone service providers supply a service called ‘caller display’ or ‘caller return’. The caller display shows the number of the caller, provided the phone receiving the call has a visual display unit. Caller return enables the person receiving calls to find out the number of the last caller by dialling 1471. To delete the last incoming number, dial 1475. Caller return may be of limited use in the case of obscene calls, as the person making the call can usually withhold their number by phoning 141 before making the call. This does not mean that the number cannot be traced once the police have authorised this. With nuisance calls the provider can trace the caller's number even if the number from which the call was made has been withheld. You can also decide not to answer a call if the caller’s number is not displayed.

Discounts, Rebates and Low Cost Schemes

Providers offer a range of special discount and rebate schemes including schemes for light and heavy users of phone services. Information on these schemes is available from providers.

Premium Rate

Premium rate services give information and provide entertainment over the phone; weather information, competitions and message exchange services. Premium rate calls cost more than normal calls, and rates for calls from mobile phones, telephone boxes and hotels can be even higher. Charges from an domestic phone must be shown in the advert for the service. The phone numbers of most premium rate services start with '090', and services of an adult nature start with '0909'. Some premium rate services on mobile phones may use short access codes. Directory Enquiry services which begin with '118' are also premium rate numbers.

You can stop any dialling from your phone line to all United Kingdom based 090 premium rate numbers. This will include calls from your home computer. If you need to do this you should get in touch your phone service provider. If you have a problem with a premium rate service, or have been wrongly charged for using a premium rate number, you can complain to the premium rate services regulator PhonepayPlus. They have a number checking facility on their website which allows you to find more information about premium rate numbers that appear on your telephone bill. They can also give you advice about what to do next.


You should speak to your provider first about any complaints. If the problem is not resolved you can make a formal complaint to the company. You can find details of how to do this on the back of your phone bill. All providers are required to have a customer complaints process. If the company hasn't got one, you should tell the communications watchdog, Ofcom. If you have made a formal complaint to the company and your problem still hasn’t been resolved, you can try using the company's Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. Your phone company might belong to one of two ADR schemes which have been approved by Ofcom: Otelo (the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman) or CISAS (Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme). Providers are required to have an ADR scheme. They are breaking important consumer protection rules if they don't. If your phone company won't tell you about its ADR scheme, you can call Ofcom for details, or look on their website.

Telecoms Organisations:


Contact Centre,
Riverside House,
2A Southwark Bridge Road,


Clove Building,
4 Maguire Street,

Ombudsman Services

PO Box 730

Chartered Institute of Arbitrators

12 Bloomsbury Square,








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