April 17 2014 Latest news:

A new tool for smartphone users promises to help cut the cost of making so-called “free” calls.

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Despite the widespread availability of bundled free minutes as part of mobile phone contracts, virtually all operators charge customers for calls to 0800 numbers.

But a company called Skycom has released an application (or “app”) that you can download to your smartphone for free, and then use it to make free calls to 0800 numbers.

Quoting Ofcom figures, Skycom said mobile phone users were collectively paying £1.9bn a year for non-geographic calls, which include calls to numbers starting with 0845, 0844 and 0870, as well as 0800.

It added that the average length of a call to an 0800 number was just over five minutes, meaning people might be paying as much as £1.70 for an average-length call for what many customers assume is a free service.

Vodafone charges 35p a minute for a call to an 0800 number; O2 charges 20.4p a minute; Three charges 15p a minute; and even under their revised pricing plans, Orange and T-Mobile charge 7.4p a minute.

James Barrington-Brown, managing director of Skycom, said: “Orange and T-Mobile have announced reduced fees for calling 0800 numbers via their networks. While this is a step in the right direction for consumers, it is still a far cry from the ‘freephone’ concept such numbers are meant to represent.

“With other providers still stubbornly maintaining expensive pricing for calls to 0800 numbers, mobile phone customers are often unwittingly paying premium rates of as much as 35p a minute.”

He added: “Many of the people we have spoken to believe the 0800 numbers they are calling should be free of charge, and feel swindled by their mobile networks when their monthly bill comes through.

“Ofcom found that as many as 63pc of people are not confident of the prices mobile networks charge for non-geographic numbers.

“Companies with freephone helplines are often disappointed that mobile networks are making a profit from what they intend to be a free service for their customers.”

The Skycom app, which works on iPhone, Blackberry and Android smartphones, provides a replacement landline 01 or 02 number for every 0800, 0500 and 0808 freephone number.

That means that as long as you are within your monthly usage allowance, the 0800 Wizard enables you to call these numbers for free from your mobile.

The app can be downloaded from smartphone app stores.

Say No To 0870 – a website that has long alerted people to the cheaper alternatives to 0870 and 0800 numbers – also offers a free app for iPhone and Android phones.

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