Types of telephone number

iPhone five using the phone app to type in a number

Your business doesn't have to settle for a standard telephone number, starting '01…' or '02…'. If you prefer, you can choose a non-geographic number

Most business telephone suppliers are able to offer non-geographic numbers, perhaps as part of a VoIP system. They can bring significant benefits to your company, including:

  • Flexible call routing. You can choose where calls to your non-geographic number are directed. So, for instance, your main office can be your default during the day, but you can switch to your mobile phone when you are out of the office and your home office overnight and at weekends.
  • Fault correction. If there's a problem with the telephone lines running into your premises, you can immediately redirect a non-geographic number elsewhere.
  • More advanced options. Depending on your business telephone supplier, it's sometimes easier to get advanced features like call queuing, call recording and voicemail when using a non-geographic number.
  • Improved company profile. Some companies believe that a non-geographic number makes them look more established. You can also get listed in every UK phone book.
  • Portable and cost-effective. You can take your business telephone number with you if you relocate, so there's no need to reprint business cards or sales material.
  • Track advertising campaigns. By providing different telephone numbers for each campaign, you can track the effectiveness of different advertising and marketing campaigns.

There are several types of non-geographic phone numbers to choose from. Each has different call charges and benefits.

Freephone numbers

Freephone numbers usually start '0808…' or '0800…'. Calls to these numbers are free from a landline or mobile phone, which make them ideal if you to encourage customers to call you.

Freephone numbers are ideal for:

  • Premium customer care, when you want to offer help without charging customers.
  • Mass marketing campaigns. Using freephone numbers in press advertising can increase response rates.
  • New business acquisition. Many companies take sales calls through a freephone number.

If you set up a freephone number, you'll have to cover the call costs. These vary depending on your supplier and the volume of calls, but expect to pay at least 1.5p per minute.

Local rate phone numbers

Local rate phone numbers usually start '0845…' or '0844…'. Calling a local rate number from a landline or mobile phone can cost up to 7p per minute plus an access charge which is set by your phone company. Businesses tend to use local rate numbers when they want to keep the cost of calling relatively low. For instance:

  • Advice lines, where you answer customer questions.
  • Response lines, where you want to encourage people to call but don't want to offer a freephone number.
  • Brochure requests. Using a local rate number for warm leads (like brochure requests) strikes a good balance between encouraging calls and keeping costs down.

It shouldn't cost much to set up a local rate phone number. In most cases you won’t pay anything for the call charges (these are covered by callers), though you might have to pay a monthly or quarterly fee to the supplier.

UK-wide numbers

UK-wide numbers start '03…' or '0345'. Calls to these numbers cost the same as calls to a normal telephone number (starting '01…' or '02…') from a UK landline but can cost significantly more from a mobile phone. Because mobile phone users can pay significantly more to call a UK-wide number, you may be better using a freephone or local rate number if you want to encourage customers to call you.

UK-wide numbers are cheap to set up - expect to pay from £10 per month. Depending on your provider, you may also have to pay a small amount towards the cost of calls.

National rate numbers

These numbers start '0870…' or '0871…' and give your business a national presence. As these numbers are billed to the caller at a national rate (up to 13p per minute from a landline or mobile phone plus an access charge), they can generate an income for you.

National rate numbers are ideal for:

  • Help and support lines. The cost of the call encourages customers to phone only when necessary, and can help subsidise the service you provide.
  • Out of office hours contact. Using a national rate number for out of hours calls can give customers a reason to phone during normal business hours.
  • Diverting calls to mobiles. If your staff work from home or on the move, revenue from a national rate number can offset the cost of diverting calls to their mobiles.

For regulatory purposes, national rate numbers are treated similarly to premium rate numbers (see below), so to operate one you need to make sure you meet the rules.

Premium rate numbers

Premium rate numbers, which start '09…', cost anything up to £3.60 per minute plus an access charge - which can be as much as £6 - to call from a landline or mobile phone. They're often used for competitions or by businesses that want to generate significant revenue through call charges.

Many companies find that using them sends a clear message to customers: 'don't call us'! Strict regulations govern the use of premium rate numbers too - you need to make sure you follow the code of practice published by Phone-paid Services Authority, the UK regulatory body.

There are lots of business telephone numbers suppliers able to offer all these different types of number. To get started, search online and ask around for recommendations from colleagues, friends or business organisations.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.