This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 30 October  1999
The text here may not be identical to the published text

BT's - Bewildering Tariff 

British Telecommunications sales staff have been caught giving wrong information to customers when trying to persuade them to join a new discount scheme called BT Together. The scheme brings the number of separate discount available from BT to 9. But the number of different combinations of these schemes is currently over 30 and that will rise further once BT Together begins on November 1. Six weeks ago Money Go Round accused BT of trying to confuse its customers so they could not easily tell if they were getting the best deal or compare its prices with those of its competitors. BT responded by saying the "radical new pricing deal moves away from complex discount schemes and introduces clear, simple, low prices."

But now it seems that even BT's own staff are confused by Together. The company is currently calling all its customers who it thinks may save money by changing to the new discount scheme. This operation is being led by its Newcastle call centre. But BT has confirmed to Money Go Round that staff there have been confused. One customer was told that the new scheme offers 25% off the cost of local, weekend calls. It does not. It offers a 25% discount off weekday, daytime calls and a 33% cut in weekday, evening calls, compared with the new prices introduced on October 1. But the new scheme offers no discount on weekend calls. Another discount scheme, PremierLine, does give 15% off the cost of weekend local calls. As we pointed out six weeks ago, customers who spend a lot of time on the internet or calling locally at the weekend could end up paying more under BT Together than they do with their current discount scheme.

But when staff from BT's Newcastle sales centre call customers, some are saying that the discounts apply to ALL daytime calls, at the weekend or in the week. Even a supervisor has got it wrong, confused by the long and complicated document which explains the discounts. The difficulty seems to be caused by BT's terminology. The new scheme offers cuts in the price of what are called 'daytime' calls. In BT-speak that only means 'weekday daytime' calls. Weekend calls, day or night, are priced differently.

And there is another hidden charge buried in the small print of the new deal which BT may not mention. At the moment, many customers enjoy a £1 discount off their quarterly rental because they pay by direct debit. This discount will be withdrawn when customers move to BT Together.

BT spokesman David Orr admitted that an error had been made by the Newcastle office.

"It seems there was a misunderstanding in this case, but we are looking into it further. Generally, our people will help you to see if it would be worthwhile to make the change"

Even if they understand the new scheme that will be a difficult task. Some senior BT people now admit privately that the pricing structure is too complex. The BT website offers customers a price calculator which lists 13 of the 30 or more different discount combinations - BT Together is not yet included.. The price cuts range from 10pc with Friends & Family (ten numbers you call a lot); through 19.9pc with Daytime Caller (50p a month for a discount on daytime calls) plus Option 15 (£3.20 a quarter for a discount on direct dialled calls); to a massive 43.75pc cut for those who choose Friends & Family, PremierLine (like Option 15 but more so) and Country Calling Plan (£1 a quarter for a discount on calls to one other country). But these thirteen discount packages are only the beginning. Take off an extra 10pc discount to call a 'best friend'. Add in BT Call & Save - 10pc off once the quarterly bill reaches £25 - which can be combined with four other plans. And already the number of different discounts has reached 29. Bear in mind that calls to mobiles are discounted differently. Check out the Light User Scheme for people who make very few calls. Take off the direct debit deduction from the quarterly rental (if applicable). Remember that there is an extra £1 a quarter charge for Friends & Family Overseas (five extra international numbers) except with PremierLine or BT Together. And finally never forget that there is a minimum charge of 5p on any call however short.

So it is almost impossible to work out for any individual if BT Together will be cheaper than this confusing mixture of existing schemes. It costs £9.20 a quarter on top of the normal rental of £27.77 and there is no discount for paying by direct debit. For this extra, there is a discount of £5.40 off a quarter's call charges, and price cuts on some, but not all, weekday calls. There are discounts too off some international calls and 5pc off calls to mobiles.

But there is no discount off the growing cost of calling directory enquiries. BT is increasing that again. From November 1 it will go up by 14pc - from 35p to 40p a call. But that is still cheap compared with the charge of £1.10 to £4.40 when BT looks for an international number.

If anyone wants to consider BT Together, the freefone number is 0800 001 800.


BT has even confused its own senior managers with its proliferation of deals and price changes. On BBC Radio 5 live on September 2, the day the price cuts from October 1st and BT Together were announced -, Ian Morfett, BT's commercial director, was interviewed at 8.45 in the morning. He was asked

"Are you sneaking in any price rises. I remember last time you announced big cuts you put up directory enquiries call charges?"

He replied: "No. We're not doing any of those….we are putting up rentals but we are also giving more than that back in terms of free calls…."

Interviewer: "And no price rises apart from the rising rental?"

Ian Morfett: "No, that's right."

But four weeks later BT did announce that calls to directory enquiries would be increased - by 14%. From Monday it will cost 40p a call instead of 35p. And the cost of checking the time has been doubled. Instead of a local call charge - which normally means that people pay just 5p - there will in future be a flat-rate 10p charge for each call made. So most people will pay double what they pay now. Both rises are timed to begin when BT Together starts - Monday November 1st.


30 October 1999

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