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Watchdog vows directory enquiry review to ensure 'transparent and fair' prices

The rising cost of directory enquiry calls to some 118 numbers are very concerning, an industry regulator has said.

It comes as latest prices, revealed by The Sun newspaper, show the minimum cost of making calls through one 118 company has increased to almost £9, up from 58p since its launch.

With enquiries made through the four biggest 118 providers costing at least £5.50, Ofcom has said it will announce details of a review of the directory services market soon.

A spokesman for the watchdog said: "Ofcom is very concerned about the rising prices of some 118 numbers, and we are already planning to review this market to ensure prices are transparent and fair to consumers."

Pricing, which The Sun reports went up on Bank Holiday Monday, shows calls to the popular 118 118 service now cost consumers £4.49 per initial inquiry with another £4.49 per minute added to the bill.

This works out as a minimum of £8.98 spend, before an additional access charge made by the users phone provider is also included.

While Yell, 118 247, and BT, 118 500, charge £2.75 per call and £2.75 per minute, with a minimum 60 second charge applicable and an additional access charge by the user's provider.

And Maureen, 118 212, charge £3.49 per call, plus £3.49 per minute, also with a minimum 60 second charge and an additional access charge made by the users provider.

In 2003 the 118 services officially replaced the 192 directory after the then telecoms regulator Oftel decided to open the directory enquiries market to competition.

At the launch of the new six-digit 118 numbers in 2002, callers using BT's service were initially charged 25p, then 30p a minute.

While those using 118 118 saw an initial billing price of 49p, then 9p a minute after that, including the cost after being put through to the requested number.

Oftel predicted at the time that opening up the market would improve services and drive down prices.

A 2005 report published by the National Audit Office found two companies, BT's 118 500 and 118 118, dominated 80% of the market and both charged more than under the 192 system.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of Home Products and Services, said charges should be clear so people are fully aware of the true costs of using directory services.

"Our advice to consumers looking to avoid being hit with these exorbitant charges is to check online for a cheaper, more direct way to obtain a contact number," she said.

A spokesman for 118 118 said: "118 118 strives to account for the diverse needs of its customers by offering a range of services at different price points. For some, speed and convenience is paramount, for others it may be cost."

The company said other services it offers include a 118 811 no frills £1 a search option, a free of charge ad-funded service on 0800 118 3733, a subscription-based app which costs £2.48 a month for unlimited calls and £4.98 a month for unlimited calls and connections, and a free website search on 118118.com.

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