Money mensch: A guide to the cheapest landline deals

By Martin Lewis, October 1, 2009
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People everywhere are infuriated by telephone line rental — or at least it is the first thing on their mind to ask when they spot me. Perhaps it is the idea that after paying hundreds of pounds a year for a facility you are then charged for calls, which makes people’s teeth gnash. Thankfully though, for the first time ever, I have an answer for how you can cut the cost of the line rental and calls.

Why has it taken so long?
Providers have been competing on line rental deals for years, but the worry has been that they will block the use of override providers that can massively cut call costs. These are specialist companies which you access simply by dialling them up on your existing phone line. Once connected to them, your call costs are slashed, eg, 5p per call rather than per minute to call a landline; or half a penny a minute, rather than 20p, to call many countries overseas.

BT is prevented from blocking access to these override numbers, because of its dominant position. Yet the restriction does not apply to other line rental providers. So saving a quid or two on the line can scupper your ability to get cheaper calls. Yet for once, the two cheapest line rental providers have guaranteed me that they have no plans to block access, so you can get the best of both worlds.

Are you on a BT line?
Strange as it may sound, the company that provides your phone line need not be the one that you make calls with. Unless you are with a cable provider (more to come), even if you pay line rental to another company such as TalkTalk or Sky, chances are it is BT providing the hardware that makes it all work. As long as have that, you should be able to access these deals.

The cheapest landline deals
This depends on whether you are just looking for a phone alone or want bundled broadband too. For that, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/broadband. Here, I want to focus on phones.

The easy option
Vast numbers are with BT for line rental and calls, and cannot be bothered to switch. If that is you, BT gives “free” calls to other landlines at weekends on its standard line rental, yet if you agree to a year’s contract, you get “free” evening calls too. But “free” just means for the first 60 minutes. You pay after that, so simply hang up and redial to keep it cheap. To pay the minimum £11.25 a month, make sure you pay by direct debit and ask for paperless (email) billing, otherwise it can be £14.

The best deal is Primus Home saver at £9.50/month. It includes free evening and weekend calls to landlines (first 90 minutes) and it is guaranteed to allow override calls.

The Post Office’s basic Home Phone package is £11.75/month. This includes the first 60 minutes of evening and weekend calls to landlines. At weekends, there are free calls to mobiles and 40 international destinations.

If you make more than ten minutes of mobile calls at the weekend, you are better off with this than BT’s basic line deal. Override providers are allowed, and it tells me there are no plans to change this. For more info and options on these, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/homephones

Cut the cost further

To halve many landline call costs without changing provider, set up an account with no-frills phone companies such as www.18185.co.uk. Then simply dial the access code (unsurprisingly, it’s 18185), before the number you are calling.

It charges 5p per call to daytime landlines, no matter how long you speak (BT’s 4.5p/min) and 6p/min to mobiles weekdays.

This works on BT and other lines mentioned, though some other call providers block access. If so, there are other special numbers to dial. Go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/callchecker for daily updated lists.

Tips for cable users

For most people, cable means Virgin, which took over the merged NTL and Telewest a couple of years ago. Unlike standard line rental, it automatically provides calls, so it requires specific tactics to save.

Haggle. Virgin is fighting to hold on to customers and market share. You can use this to your advantage by noting down the best deals. Call it up and quote these, saying you are considering leaving as it is too expensive.

There is a good chance that it will offer to reduce your prices or give you a number of months for free. If it does not, do consider leaving, as better deals are likely to be available elsewhere.

Cut individual call costs

Virgin calls can be expensive, particularly if you are calling mobiles at up to 15p/min. However, you can legally bypass this to nearly halve the cost, just by dialling a special code before calling.

The best of these override providers is again 18185. There is more info at www.moneysavingexpert.com/homephones

    Last updated: 9:35am, October 1 2009