By Mark Fairlie.

From April 2019, 90-second calls to directory enquiry service providers will be capped at £3.65. According to telecoms regulator OFCOM, the move has been prompted by the fact that 65% of service users do not know how much calls cost and two-fifths said that calls cost more than they expected.

The £3.65 charge will take the cost of the average 90-second call back to its 2012 rate and, in the words of the regulator, “closer to what people have told us they expect to pay for using these services”. OFCOM believes that 450,000 people using the service end up paying between them £2.4m a year more for the service than they anticipated.

Do people still use directory enquiries?

Yes. BBC News reports that people over the age of 65, calls 118 numbers at four times the frequency of those aged between 16 and 34 because people in that demographic are much less likely to have an internet connection.

However, calls to 118 services are plummeting at the rate of 40% per year, according to the Guardian.

Speaking to Moneywise, Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at believes that directory enquiry operators have had their “heyday” and that the decision to increase costs to callers was a commercial one “as the use of the internet for everyday enquiries has become the norm.”

In May 2018, BT announced that they were reducing their charges from £2.75 a minute to £1.55.

What do providers currently charge?

OFCOM released details of the costs of 90-second calls to 8 different licensed providers as at 20th November 2018. The results of their investigation were.

ProviderAccess number90-second call charge
BT plc118500£3.10
Post Office118855£1.00


Virgin customers were entitled to 10 free directory enquiry calls per day and the charge shown above only applies to the eleventh call and subsequent calls onward.

History of directory enquiries

Prior to 10 December 2002, BT operated a monopoly on telephone-based directory enquiry charges using the 192 number.

This system was replaced with multiple operators competing using memorable six-digit telephone numbers instead all of which began with 118.

At the time of launch, directory enquiry services were considerably more popular than they are today and prices were much lower with the two dominant operators, 118 118 and 118 500 (source: Guardian).

“Astronomical” directory enquiry charges to be capped

Directory enquiry providers recently disciplined by PSA over misleading automatic announcements

In recent years, many directory enquiry providers have begun to rent numbers of businesses to which they used to refer callers where that company has ceased trading.

Speaking to Telemedia Online, one consumer said that

“I dialled 01254 450045 by mistake… I got a message, ‘this number is out of service, call 118023.’ Thinking this was a Specsavers message [the intended destination of the call] dialled 118023. I realised my mistake immediately and hung up. I was not advised of any charges when I got the message and was shocked to see a charge for £7.05 for 22 seconds on my bill”.

This practice has led to fines against two providers by watchdog UK Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) – £200,000 against Powertel and £425,000 to Call the 118 113 Help Desk.

From 4th February 2019, according to Telecompaper, new “special conditions” will apply to “inactive or unused” geographic numbers. When a call is made to one of these numbers, a special announcement by the renter of the number must inform people of onward connection costs clearly and up front.