'03' - Non-geographic Landline Numbers

What are '03' Numbers?

Numbers starting with '03' are charged at standard landline rates, but they are not linked to any specific location. They are designed for use by businesses, government and other organisations to provide a more flexible alternative to area-specific landline numbers.

Non-geographic numbers are often used by organisations instead of normal local landline numbers because they offer a number of special features:

  • Disaster recovery - in the event of a fault or damage to the telephone network in the area that they are linked to, standard geographically-routed landline numbers may become unreachable. Non-geographic numbers can be redirected to alternative locations when required, so that incoming calls can continue to be connected.
  • Flexible routeing - calls can easily be directed to virtually any destination. This means that calls can be answered in different locations at different times of day, or allow calls to be diverted to a different call centre in the event of one team being busy.
  • Location neutrality - geographic landline numbers are linked with a specific locality. By using non-geographic numbers, an organisation can avoid appearing to be limited in scope to a specific geographic area. They also have the flexibility to keep the same numbers if they relocate or expansion into a different location.
  • Easier publicity - organisations covering multiple locations can advertise a single phone number instead of different numbers for each areaand then automatically divert calls to the most appropriate office, based on the caller's location.

There are currently 12 separate series of '03' numbers in use: 0300, 0303, 0306, 0330, 0331, 0333, 0343, 0344, 0345, 0370, 0371 and 0372.

All 03 numbers are charged at the same rate and work in the same way, although numbers starting with '030' are specifically reserved for public sector bodies, charities and other non-profit organisations.

Official definition of 03 numbers and charges

In the National Telephone Numbering Plan issued by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, '03' numbers are defined as:

Calls charged at a geographic rate: calls charged at up to the same rate the customer would pay to call a UK geographic number, with calls to '03' numbers counting towards inclusive call minutes in calling plans, and being included in any discount structures that apply to UK geographic numbers.

Additionally, Ofcom prohibits any revenue sharing for '03' number calls:

Those who adopt or otherwise use non-geographic numbers starting '03' shall not directly or indirectly share with any end-user or any calling party any revenue obtained from providing a service on those numbers.

The history of 03 numbers

Prior to the introduction of '03' numbers in 2007, any company wanting specialist call routeing facilities detailed at the start of this page would have had to use either freephone numbers or the various non-geographic numbers starting with '08'. This had a number of drawbacks, both for the organisation and consumers: a freephone number could be expensive for the organisation to run, but the alternative option of '0845', '0870', etc number could be more expensive for people to call and were not usually included in calling plans. This had made them increasingly unpopular.

To mitigate these issues, Ofcom introduced '03' numbers, which were designed to offer the range of advanced call routeing features companies required, while costing callers no more than a normal phone call.

At first, adoption of '03' numbers was relatively slow. However, the introduction of a number of regulations and rules resulted in many companies switching over to '03' numbers in 2014 and 2015:

  • in 2014 the EU's Consumer Rights Directive resulted in companies being banned from using more expensive '084' and '087' phone numbers for customer services.
  • in 2015, similar rules were put in place for banks by the Financial Conduct Agency in 2015
  • additionally, in July 2015, further rules were introduced that required organisations using '084' and '087' numbers to publicise the surcharges that applied when calling such numbers.

The final change in particular resulted in many more organisations switching to '03' numbers at this point, to avoid the complexity and potential negative image created by having to publicly declare the excess costs involved in calling their '084' and '087' numbers.