THOUSANDS of British Telecom customers in the Ribble Valley area are facing higher than expected phone bills because of a computer mix-up.

People living in Clitheroe who were accepted on to the company's popular "Friends and Family" scheme have been losing out on its discounts since the town's exchange went digital in July.

When homes in the town had an extra digit added to their phone numbers BT's computer did not automatically transfer the special "Friend and Family" numbers.

And bosses at the company are still looking at a way to try and solve the problem four months after the changes were introduced.

Customers living in the area covered by Clitheroe exchange will not get their "Friends and Family" reduction unless they notify BT about the change to their number.

A spokesman for the company said: "The "Friends and Family" scheme has been a huge success and literally millions of people across the country are taking part. "Even more people have decided to take up the offer since it became free to join the scheme.

"The problem is when there are changes to numbers or in customers' personal circumstances the computer does not register the customer."

If people move or have their phone numbers changed then they will have to reapply to join the scheme.

The BT spokesman added: "This is a problem that we know about and we are trying to do something to put the situation right.

"We are talking about literally thousands of homes affected by the changes and we are looking at a simple way of getting the message across to our customers.

"If peoples numbers have changed then they need to register again with BT."

A spokesman for OFTEL, the government watchdog, said: "BT have assured us they know all about the situation and are doing their best to put things right.

"We have been told they are working very hard to update the computer and solve the problem as soon as possible.

"It would have been more helpful if BT had told their customers about the problem but they seem to be doing their best to rectify the situation."

People who contact the operator can have their details changed and can also apply to have their discount backdated.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.