Phone Numbers In Depth » Number shortage areas

Number shortage areas

Several UK telephone area codes are close to their maximum capacity, with very limited spare numbers available for allocation to telephone companies.

Definition of number shortages

Regulator Ofcom monitors the quantity of telephone numbers that have not been issued to phone companies and remain unused in each area code. During October 2016, it determined that 44 area codes were likely to have spare capacity of less than 10% by the year 2025.

The figure of 10% does not directly take into account numbers that have been allocated to phone companies but not yet issued to customers; in practice most companies also have spare numbers in their existing stocks.

The areas affected are primarily smaller cities and provincial towns using five-digit area codes - such as Swansea (01792) or Bournemouth (01202).

Measures taken

New capacity can easily be created through renumbering or changing area codes. However, Ofcom has not carried out such activity in recent years as it believes that number changes cause the public too much inconvenience.

Currently, the policy is to force down demand by charging phone companies for the numbers they use in areas where supplies are low. This discourages companies from hoarding unused numbers or applying for new numbers unnecessarily and has helped free up capacity in several areas.

Additionally, in the most severely affected areas, Ofcom has removed the ability to dial numbers without an area code locally.

Impact of number shortages

Even in areas with number shortages, phone companies hold enough existing stocks of numbers to meet most demand from personal and business customers. However, the following issues exist in areas with number shortages:

  • Organisations that need large batches of phone numbers may struggle to obtain enough suitable numbers from their local area code;
  • The charges Ofcom levy for numbers in these areas increase costs for phone companies. These companies may try to pass on the increased cost to customers or, in extreme cases, withdraw customers' numbers to avoid charges;
  • New phone companies may not be able to offer services in an area if they cannot obtain suitable numbers.

Areas affected

According to Ofcom, the 44 area codes most at risk of running short of phone numbers by 2025 are:

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