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The Telephone Area Code for London

Published by K McGuinness in Life
February 26th, 2008

Do you live in London? Do you call there regularly? Do you know the telephone code for the centre of the Universe that is London? If you think that it is 0207 or 0208 then the answer is an emphatic NO! Read on to enlightenment.

The History

The telephone code for London is 020. I would be happy for this to be a mini article and end it there. Unfortunately if anyone reading this is currently thinking “but what about 0207 and 0208?” let me stop you right there. There are no such codes as 0207 or 0208. There have not been 2 codes for London for 8 years and neither of the codes mentioned ever existed.

Now that you’ve recovered from that mild shock I’ll continue. In 2000 there was a number change, British Telecom (BT) referred to it as the big number change. While it affected several areas I’m going to concentrate on London (I was born here, work and live here, yes I’m biased).

To allow for the phenomenal growth of telephone numbers the two codes for London at the time (0171 & 0181) were replaced by one code (020), the seven digit local number was replaced by an 8 digit local number. If your telephone number previously began 0171 then your new local number would begin with a 7xxx xxxx. If your telephone number previously began 0181 then your new local number would begin 8xxx xxxx.

Now the information in the above paragraph was widely reported and advertised for a year before the changeover. I am of medium intelligence but somehow picked it up immediately. 50% (made up statistic) of the population would appear to be of lower intelligence. That’s a sweeping statement I hear you cry, yet so many people continue to repeat the fallacy of 0207 & 0208.

They Should Know Better

And not just laymen, I have to deal with BT and mobile operators on a daily basis and I’m forever correcting them when they give it out erroneously. O2 even ran a promotion offering discounts to 2 area codes but defined 0207 & 0208 as different codes. However when I contacted them they brushed me off refusing to admit they were incorrect.

Since the big number change the 7 & 8 can no longer be relied on to specify geographical location as new local numbers beginning 8 have been allocated for central London and numbers beginning 7 allocated for outer London. Additionally new local London numbers beginning 3xxx xxxx have begun to be issued and a third code (0203) quoted incorrectly!!

One of the biggest problems is giving out or receiving telephone numbers. If you quote 020 7xxx xxxx, you’ll have it read back to you 0207 xxx xxxx and it becomes very confusing. In London all you need is the 8 digit local number so the 020 is superfluous anyway. Now before this goes any further we need to correct the mistake, grasp the code that is 020 and discard the 0207, 0208 and now 0203 which is blighting our phone books, advertising, letterheads and countryside!

Liked it
  1. Patrick
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:49 am

    At last.. the world will hear you!

  2. Wayne Kerr
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 6:54 am

    ‘While it affected several areas I’m going to concentrate on London (I was born here, work and live here, yes I’m biased)’

    This joker actually lives in Watford (area code 01923). Small point but it is not in London. If he gets this small fact incorrect perhaps the whole article is inaccruate?

  3. Chavney
    Posted February 28, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Finally – someone else who shares my view point on this important issue – maybe we should hook up? Meet you on the pier in Sarf End tomorrow?

  4. Peter Vuorela
    Posted April 25, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    I’m surprised that MOST people (many born and bred Londoners) still get this wrong after eight years or so. The things is eventually all numbers, not only 3, 7 and 8, will be used as the number of the eight digit number. That was the whole point of this exercise!

  5. Derek Davies
    Posted July 25, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    An Ofcom news release dated 24/07/08, covering the allocation of four new community radio stations, includes two in Coventry. Ofcom gives the telephone numbers of these two stations as 02476-670160 and 02476-550564 which should be 024 7667 0160 and 024 7655 0564. The error is compounded by the inclusion of the hyphen! How can we possibly expect people to quote numbers correctly when Ofcom cannot get it right themselves?

  6. Charlie Pearce
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 8:28 am

    On a purely pedantic note, the codes 0207 and 0207 *have* both existed.

    Prior to the PhONEday changes in 1995, 0207 was the code for Consett, and 0208 was the code for Bodmin.


  7. AnonUK
    Posted June 16, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Good to see others who understand and accept 020 as the code. Seems to me that broadcasters never understood it and therefore announced it wrongly, making people (especially Londoners) think it was not ‘020′ but these other variations.

    (Possibly as media presenters will mostly use a mobile, where all digits are needed, so they never knew about ‘area’ and ‘local’ parts of a number, and probably live outside London too).

    As for the Ofcom mistake, sounds like it could have been some ‘junior’ who went from the old form of caller display (for a long time, the caller display showed those hyphens, and while 01×1 numbers were shown OK, everything else was assumed to be 0xxxx-xxxxxx hence the numbers shown!)

  8. Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:06 am

    On \\\”The One Show\\\” last week, the on-screen caption said \\\”020 8xxx xxxx\\\” and the presenter still insisted on saying \\\”0208 xxxx xxx\\\”.


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