UK telephone numbering plan

The UK telephone numbering plan, also known as the National Numbering Plan, is regulated by the Office of Communications (Ofcom), which replaced the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel) in 2003.

The telephone service in the United Kingdom was originally provided by private companies and local city councils. But by 1912/1913 [1] ( all except the telephone service of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire and Guernsey had been bought out by the Post Office. Post Office Telephones also operated telephone services in Jersey and the Isle of Man until 1969 when the islands took over responsibility for their own postal and telephone services.

Post Office Telephones was reorganised in 1980/1981 [2] ( as British Telecommunications (British Telecom, or BT), and was the first nationalised industry to be privatised by the Conservative government. The Hull Telephone Department was itself sold by Hull City Council as Kingston Communications in the late 1990s and celebrated its centenary in 2004 (



Introduction of Area Codes

Area codes were first introduced in 1958 [3] (, allowing a caller to call another telephone direct instead of via a manual telephone exchange, a process known as Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD), although the process was not completed until 1979 [4] ( The four-digit codes were originally assigned based on two letters of the respective place's name and the corresponding numbers on a telephone keypad. For example Aylesbury was given the STD code 0296, where the letter A can be found on the number 2 and the letter Y on the number 9. The letter O became a zero (except in placenames beginning with O), such as Bournemouth: 0202 - 20 = BO. However as more and more places were given STD codes this system became unworkable. The use of alphabetic exchange (area) codes was abandoned in the 1960s. As such about 60% of codes are alphabetic (and they seem to cluster, oddly).

Calls to Ireland

Until the late 1980s, calls to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland were made using the code 0001. This was discontinued, so that all calls to the Republic from the UK had to be dialled in the international format using the international access code (since 1995 00) and country code (353).

However, calls from Northern Ireland to the Republic continue to be charged at UK national or local rates.

Director System

The Director system was put in place in six cities, including London, where only a 2 or 3 digit code was used for the city, followed by a 3 digit code, represented by letters, to identify the local exchange. These were

01  London
021 Birmingham (2 = B)
031 Edinburgh (3 = E)
041 Glasgow (4 = G)
051 Liverpool (5 = L)
061 Manchester (6 = M)
091 Newcastle upon Tyne (introduced mid-1980s, also includes Durham)

In May 1990, the growth in demand for phone numbers in London caused the London area to be split:

071 inner London
081 outer London


On 'PhONE Day', 16 April 1995, the digit '1' was inserted into area codes: for example, central London's 071 became 0171. This was with a view to reorganising the numbering plan, so that the first two digits would indicate the type of service called:

00 International dialling
01 Geographic area codes
02 New geographic area codes
03 Geographic area code expansion
04 Reserved for future use
05 Corporate numbering 
06 Corporate numbering expansion 
07 Mobile phones, pagers and personal numbering
08 Freephone and shared cost
09 Premium rate- similar to US 1 900 number range 

The international access code also changed on 'PhONE Day', from 010 to 00. Five new area codes were introduced for cities that were running low on phone numbers - and a digit was prepended to each number.

Leeds       0113 2xx xxxx (was 0532 xxx xxx - 53 = LE)
Sheffield   0114 2xx xxxx (was 0742 xxx xxx - 74 = SH)
Nottingham  0115 9xx xxxx (was 0602 xxx xxx - 60 = NO)
Leicester   0116 2xx xxxx (was 0533 xxx xxx - 53 = LE)
Bristol     0117 9xx xxxx (was 0272 xxx xxx - 27 = BR)

Reading's 0118 was phased in over three years. Note that the first digit of the local numbers within these codes is no longer restricted to those shown: for example, while all pre-'PhONE Day' Leeds numbers migrated to 0113 2xx xxxx, this numbering range has since been exhausted, and local numbers of the form 0113 3xx xxxx are now assigned.

On 22 April 2000 the second phase of this came into operation. With 02* freed up by the previous reorganisation, it could be re-used.

London        020 7xxx xxxx (for existing 0171 xxx xxxx inner London numbers, and new numbers London-wide)
              020 8xxx xxxx (for existing 0181 xxx xxxx outer London numbers, and new numbers London-wide)
              020 3xxx xxxx (next phase of numbers which were released London-wide from June of 2005)

Southampton   023 80xx xxxx (was 01703 xxx xxx - 70 = SO)
Portsmouth    023 92xx xxxx (was 01705 xxx xxx - 70 = PO)
Coventry      024 76xx xxxx (was 01203 xxx xxx - 20 = CO)
Cardiff       029 20xx xxxx (was 01222 xxx xxx - 22 = CA)

Also, all Northern Ireland numbers were moved into the single area code 028. These can be accessed from the Republic of Ireland using either the domestic code 048, or the international code 00 44 28.

020 for London

Note that since the migration to the single 020 code for London, there is no "inner/outer" split. Although existing inner and outer London numbers acquired the first digit "7" and "8" respectively, from that point on 7xxx xxxx and 8xxx xxxx local numbers were assigned anywhere in the London area covered by the 020 code. So the present situation is that 7xxx xxxx, 8xxx xxxx and (from June 2005) 3xxx xxxx numbers are allocated throughout London. It is important to note that formatting the codes as 0207 xxx xxxx and 0208 xxx xxxx is incorrect, as this implies a seven-digit local number rather than the correct eight digits. It is a common misconception that London has more than one area code, which persists because of the perceived 'prestige' of the old central London area code 0171.


The leading '0' of an area code is called the trunk code. All calls within the same area code and geographically adjacent codes are local calls, more distant calls are charged at the national rate. Following the changes in 1995, 2000 and 2001, the numbering range in use is as follows:

Geographic Numbering

  • (01xxx) xxxxxx - a four digit area code and six digit subscriber number, e.g:
01382 Dundee (38 = DU)
01482 Hull (48 = HU)
01582 Luton (58 = LU)
  • 01x1-xxx xxxx - the geographical number format for the larger cities, a three digit area code, with a seven digit subscriber number where the first three digits identifies an area within the city.
0121 Birmingham (2 = B)
0131 Edinburgh(3 = E)
0141 Glasgow(4 = G)
0151 Liverpool(5 = L)
0161 Manchester(6 = M)
0171 used for inner London until 2000
0181 used for outer London until 2000
0191 Newcastle upon Tyne
  • (011x) xxx xxxx - the geographical number format for a second tier of large cities, a three digit area code, with a seven digit subscriber number, e.g:
0113 Leeds
0114 Sheffield
0115 Nottingham 
0116 Leicester
0117 Bristol
0118 Reading phased in between 1996 and 1998
  • (02x) xxxx xxxx - the geographical number format for areas of high population densities which had run out of spare numbers using six or seven digit numbers and now the most common format, a two digit area code with an 8-digit subscriber number, e.g:
 020 London
 023 South Hampshire (Southampton and Portsmouth) 
 024 Coventry
 028 Northern Ireland (Belfast 028 90xx xxxx, Londonderry 028 71xx xxxx)
 029 Cardiff (may become code for Wales)
  • (01xxx[x]) xxxx[x] - other geographical number formats; note that STD code and subscriber number does not have to total 11 digits, e.g:
(01204) xxxxx  Bolton (Daubhill)
(015396) xxxxx Sedbergh
(016977) xxxx  Brampton

Nongeographic Numbering

  • 05x xxxx xxxx - Reserved for Corporate Numbering.
 055 xxxx xxxx Used by BT for its Broadband Voice service.
 056 xxxx xxxx Allocated by Ofcom for Voice over Internet Protocol services. 

The 0500 range was previously used for some freephone services, of which some remain,
e.g., 0500 909693 the phone-in number for BBC Radio Five Live.

  • 07xxx xxxxxx - mobile phones, pagers and personal numbering. Individual mobile phone companies are allocated different ranges within the 077xx, 078xx and 079xx area codes. Changes to mobile numbers were mostly straight replacements, e.g. Vodafone customers on the 0378 block became 07778.
 070xx Personal Numbering
 076xx Pagers
 077xx Mobile Phones (former 03xx and 04xx - Vodafone and Cellnet) 
 078xx Mobile Phones (former 05xx, 06xx and 08xx - Vodafone and Cellnet)
 079xx Mobile phones (former 09xx - mostly Orange) 
  • 08xx -- Non-Geographic Fixed-Rate, or Special Rate Services, e.g.
 0800 xxx xxxx or 0800 xxx xxx Free Phone
 0845 xxx xxxx Local Rate
 0870 xxx xxxx National Rate 
 0844 xxx xxxx Fixed Special Local Rate
 0871 xxx xxxx Fixed Special National Rate
  • 09xxx xxxxxx - Premium Rate Services (No Maximum Call Rate).

Crown Dependencies

The Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, etc.) and the Isle of Man are not part of the UK, but as a legacy of their postal and telephone services being operated by the UK GPO until 1969 they continue to form part of the UK numbering plan, using the following ranges:

  • Guernsey
 01481  Fixed Line (48 = GU)
 07781  Mobile Phones and Pagers
  • Jersey
01534 Fixed Line (53 = JE)
07797 Mobile Phones and Pagers
  • Isle of Man
 01624  Fixed Line (62 = MA)
 07624  Mobile Phones and Pagers

On the Isle of Man, both fixed and mobile phone numbers can be dialled locally in the six-digit format.

Although calls from the UK to these islands are charged at the same rate as those to geographic numbers in the UK, calls to the Channel Islands may be excluded from calling plans offering unlimited UK fixed line calls.

Drama Numbers

Ofcom has also reserved certain number ranges for use in television dramas and films, so as to avoid the risk of people having their telephone numbers displayed, and receiving unwanted calls. This is similar to the use of fictitious telephone numbers in the United States with the digits '555'. In most of the large cities with three-digit area codes a range of numbers is reserved, usually all the numbers starting with the digits '4960'. For fictitious numbers in other areas the area code 01632 is reserved; this code is not in use, although 0632 was used for Newcastle upon Tyne until the late 1980s (63 = NE). There are also reserved ranges for fictitious mobile, free and premium rate numbers.

Special Service Numbers

The few telephone numbers which are less than eleven digits long are mostly in the 0845 range, e.g. 0800 1111 the national ChildLine helpline, and 0845 4647 for NHS Direct medical advice. There are also codes for use with Caller ID, known in the UK as 'Caller Display':

 141 Number Withhold (when normally released)
 1470 Number Release (when normally withheld)
 1471 Call Return (caller may press '3' to return call on hearing number)

The UK has two emergency numbers - the traditional 999, which is still widely used, and the EU standard 112, which can be used in all member states of the European Union. Both 999 and 112 are used to contact all emergency services: Police, Fire Service, Ambulance Service, Mountain Rescue, Coastguard and Cave Rescue.

The operator is obtained via 100, while directory enquiries, formerly 192, is now provided in the 118xxx range, e.g. 118 500, 118 888, by different companies.

Most telephone companies offer a speaking clock service on 123, although mobile networks sometimes allocate services such as voicemail or customer services to this number.

See also

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