Brokers complain that premium rate phone numbers push up their quarterly bills

Biba has pledged to investigate insurers that are discriminating against brokers by charging them premium rates for telephone calls, while direct customers benefit from local rates.

Biba has received a number of complaints from regional brokers which face large telephone bills.

One such complainant is Lancaster broker Reid Hamilton & Co, which claims that 0870 calls to insurers, costing as much as 12p per minute, make up about 25% of its quarterly phone bills – with a majority of the call time spent on hold.

Of the company’s £492 bill, £123 worth of calls were to 13 insurers’ 0870 numbers, including numbers for Fortis, Royal & SunAlliance, Zurich and AXA.

Duncan Woodcock, managing director at Reid Hamilton, said: “If this is replicated across the 3,000 independent intermediaries in the UK the figure extracted by UK insurers in the 0870 call charges from their supporting brokers would probably exceed £1m.”

Woodcock added that these same insurers present direct customers with toll free numbers in the event they need to make a claim.

0870 numbers may currently incur a charge of up to 12p a minute, though regulator Ofcom plans to standardise this in line with national call charges by the end of the year. 0845 numbers are charged at standard local rates.

Steve Foulsham, technical services manager at Biba, said: “Insurers should make a point of ensuring brokers have personal contact through a direct line.”

Shaun Astley, operations director at Fortis, said last year the company decided to switch from 0870 to 0845 numbers to help brokers and customers save money. He said: “We switched because we listened to brokers and they said this was costing them money. ”

A spokesman for Groupama said: “Once [the Ofcom] changes are implemented, we believe that retaining our 0870 numbers will provide good value for our customers, avoid the confusion of mass number changes and also be an efficient and cost effective solution for Groupama Insurances.”