Communications watchdog to look into insurers' call centre practices

Brokers and policyholders have been misled by insurers' confusing call rates, blasted communications watchdog Ofcom.

Ofcom said the use of 0870 and 0845 numbers by many call centres was "confusing" and "misleading" customers. The watchdog is concerned that these numbers are often advertised as 'national' and 'local rate' call when in fact the charges can be three times higher. Companies using 0870 and 0845 numbers can also make money from them.

Insurance Times has received complaints from a number of readers who feel they are being exploited by insurers' call centres. One broker told of a client who had spent so much time calling a Norwich Union (NU) call centre using an 0870 number that the call costs amounted to 10% of the client's quarterly bill.

An NU spokeswoman said the company "hardly uses any 0870 numbers", mainly using 0800 (freephone), 0845 or normal STD codes. She denied NU made any revenue from 0870 calls.

Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) said that some call centre numbers were 0870 but these were for "historic reasons or had been negotiated with third parties such as banks". But a spokeswoman admitted that R&SA "received a contribution towards revenue" from such numbers.

AXA said its claims and service numbers were "typically" prefixed with an 0870 number.

Ofcom said it would announce measures to control the use of 0870 numbers within the next few months.