Ever wondered how those directory enquiry services can afford to advertise so much?

UK directory enquiry services recently raised their prices such that the most popular one now costs a minimum of £9.

A bunch of UK media have jumped on these high prices and now the telecoms regulator Ofcom, which has thus far resisted calls to cap the prices these services charge, seems ready to seriously think about looking into it. While it could be argued that nobody is forcing anyone to use those services, the concern is that non tech-savvy people are being exploited.

The current UK market leader in telephone directory services is 118 118 which, according to the paper that initiated the latest round of outrage – The Sun – recently raised its prices such that the minimum you can expect to pay if call it is £8.98. This is made of a £4.49 connection fee and £4.49 for every subsequent minute, or fraction thereof. Apparently the meter keeps running for the direction of the call if you ask them to connect you and even if, for some reason, they struggle to do so.

The funny part of all this is that the 118 service, which used to be run exclusively by BT at a fixed cost of 40p per minute, was opened up to competition in 2003 with the stated aim of reducing prices. The market seems to have failed in this case, however, as process for all of them – including BT’s 118 500 service – has rocketed since.

The BBC reports that Ofcom has said it’s very concerned about these price rises although it has made no formal announcement and hadn’t responded to our request for comment at time of writing. This isn’t the first time there has been media outrage over this matter, with many incensed that they cost even more than premium-rate saucy chit-chat lines, but it looks like the rapacity of these services may have finally crossed a line.

There will now, apparently, be a review of the whole market. There seems to be a clear correlation between very heavy advertising and astonishingly profitable services and a call needs to be made if allowing this situation to continue is in the public interest. There are more reasonably-priced services, but as they are not so exhaustively promoted they are less used, so this seems to be a case of deregulation being abused by the power of advertising.

UPDATE – 18:30 8/5/17 – After publication we received the following statement from Ofcom: “Ofcom is very concerned about the rising prices of some 118 numbers, and we are already planning to review this market to ensure prices are transparent and fair to consumers. We will announce further details soon.”

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