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Keith Brown MSP: our plan to tackle nuisance calls in Scotland

Keith Brown MSP with Which? staff. Photographed by David P Scott.

The Scottish Government has today announced plans to tackle nuisance calls. Its action plan represents a huge win for our Stop Nuisance Calls In Scotland campaign. Keith Brown MSP joins us once again to tell us more.

For the majority of us, nuisance calls are just that – a nuisance. However increasingly, nuisance and scam callers are targeting the old and the vulnerable, turning them from a mere nuisance into a menace.

We know that Scotland is disproportionately affected by nuisance calls; three of the top five cities affected by nuisance calls are in Scotland and nine out of ten Scottish households have received a nuisance call on their landline within the last year.

Unfortunately the power to regulate these calls and texts is reserved to the UK Government, making it extremely difficult for the Scottish Government to solve this issue.

However, I have said repeatedly that these challenges can’t stop us trying – the consequences of nuisance calls are too serious for that.

Nuisance Calls Commission

When I wrote for Which? Conversation last year, I was just about to chair the first meeting of the Nuisance Calls Commission; set up as a result of the Which? Stop Nuisance Calls In Scotland campaign. The Commission brought together regulators, industry and consumer groups to find practical actions. Which?, of course, was a Commission member, and I’m grateful to them and everyone else who committed time and effort.

What we learned at the Commission is that there’s a lot of good work underway. This work has brought about the publication of the Response to Scotland’s Nuisance Calls Commission – An Action Plan, launched today, which outlines what we can do to curb nuisance calls.

Action on nuisance calls

Within this Action Plan we set out how we will reduce the impact of nuisance calls and expand our focus to better protect our most vulnerable citizens.

One very practical measure that we are taking is to fund over 500 call blocking units. Although this doesn’t solve the issue for the majority, it ensures our most vulnerable citizens are protected.

We are also working on a range of measures to raise awareness about how individuals can protect themselves from these calls, and encourage good practice on behalf of businesses in Scotland.

Last week, I wrote to the UK Government on this issue because I believe more can be done such as; exploring an automatic opt-out model, for telecoms providers to provide more network solutions and to make it easier for people to report suspected scam calls.

Consumer awareness week

Our action plan launch coincides with the consumer awareness week organised by Which? and Citizens Advice Scotland which is also providing people with info and tips to help them protect themselves or their loved ones.

If we all come together to tackle this issue, we have the power to change the behaviour of companies who make nuisance and scam calls.

Your experiences are why we are taking action and I hope you continue to share them.

This is a guest contribution by Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs & Fair Work. All views expressed here are the Scottish Government’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Comments
Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Not wishing to put any negative slant on this as it is a good start , but I am a realist . The Scottish Government does not have the legal ability to enforce BT et al to change its exchange equipment programming to employ filters to block this kind of thing , that is reserved to Westminster . I honestly don’t see any real difference UNLESS Government Scotland are allowed to trace these calls to source and if they originate from Scottish/English soil then criminal charges could be raised . As WEstminster wont allow this how possibly can Holyrood ? Lets be honest this type of calling is used by all types of businesses and I cannot see regulations being drawn up by Westminster which has gone to enormous trouble to DE-regulate and remove Big Business from any “restrictions” of a legal nature under the UK- “Open for Business ” policy where this country is more “open ” now than the home of capitalism -the USA -at the expense of its citizens . Its a good public advertising campaign but this “old dog ” will just “bark ” at it.-woof-woof !

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

The shortish report in the conclusion says:
“The actions outlined in this plan, from partnerships between members to deliver a concerted week of campaigning, to interagency cooperation to identify people most in need of call blocking technology, are proof of what can be achieved when that collective energy is harnessed. We will play our part by implementing and building on the actions we’ve committed to here. We now urge the UK Government to show similar commitment and ensure that people all across the UK are protected from a nuisance calls epidemic that has already gone on too long.”

Really, raising awareness and providing call blockers to the vulnerable seem to be the main recommendations. On the whole, together with telecoms providers also giving a call blocking function, is this perhaps all that can realistically be done?

One matter it does not appear to provide a solution to is providing a central organisation to which you can report the telephone number of an “unwanted” caller. However the problem of undisclosed or false numbers will persist, I imagine.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I’m sorry to here that many in Scotland are still suffering from nuisance calls because after years of torment I now receive very few. (I’m a Scot living in England.)

I would be interested to know why call blockers are seen as a solution now that BT Call Protect is in operation and is a free service.

Profile photo of PatrickTaylor
Member

Attitudes towards nuisance calls:
○ 86% people agreed that cold calls are an annoying interruption to their daily life

One wonders if this also was the percentage of Ordinary Members of the Consumers’ Association contacted by Which? staff on how to vote on the Resolutions for change.

Member

It’s a waste of time directing efforts at blocking calls, disreputable companies will always find ways of getting around call blockers. We need UK-wide legislation to effectively regulate cold-calling – this would include:
Make it compulsory for such callers not to hide their phone numbers from caller ID so you can see the number they are calling from
Make compliance with TPS mandatory, and beef up fines on companies that ignore this
Make it compulsory for the caller to state the name of the calling company and make it unlawful for them to imply that they are calling on behalf of a government agency
Ban the use of random auto-dialers
In the case of automated messages, make it compulsory to include an opt-out button to be removed from the calling list and ensure that this is ACTUALLY DONE. Again, beef up fines for breaches.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Kay I sympathise with you Kay but HMG isnt going to block businesses hiding their telephone numbers I just dont see it happening . It all part of the practices that started with call-centres and has now morphed into businesses using out of area techniques etc to hide their real location . Its all done for business interests . Couple that with this country having a built in reluctance to allow the general public any sort of power by having the means to hit codes and block all sorts of calls via the network exchange equipment.

Member
Elizabeth Smith says:
17 September 2017

I bought a BT Call-blocking phone last year after being pestered many times a week. Brilliant. I can see a list of the calls that didn’t get through and there are lots, They didn’t disturb me. All the calls that are legitimate still get through. Really pleased with my purchase.

Profile photo of Bieldman
Member

This is just spin from the Scottish Government. There is nothing in this that will make any real change but it’s a good excuse to point the finger of blame at Westminster again. There is nothing here that makes a serious challenge to the Westminster Government to act in the interests of the people rather than of big business and of the odious scammers that exploit the “freedoms” given to legitimate businesses.

I am registered with the TPS but it seems to make no difference. I have also gone through the formal channels but at the end of the day the answer is always that there is nothing that can be done. It’s a complete waste of time. I get about 2 or 3 calls a day on average and simply ignore non local numbers I don’t know . If it’s a legitimate call folk can always leave a message and I’ll phone back. Sometimes if I am feeling mischievous I will pick up the phone and find that it is usually someone on about PPI, an accident claim, green energy schemes for replacement boilers or someone purporting to be from TalkTalk to tell me there is something wrong with my internet connection. The last of those is interesting as I don’t get my internet connection through TalkTalk and never have! For those companies trying to sell something I tell them that they are breaking the law as I am registered with TPS. This does not fluster them in any way and their logic seems to be that finding out whether or not I want to buy their product or not is market research and therefore exempt from the TPS constraints! I sometimes tell companies that, yes, I am interested in what they are selling but that I will buy it from a company that has not interrupted me from what I was doing with an unsolicited phone call.

But the bottom line here is that cold calling, legitimate or not, is an intrusion at best and a serious nuisance at worst. There are plenty of other ways for businesses to market their products and it simply is not good enough that Government do not protect citizens from this unwanted intrusion into our lives. Unsolicited marketing phone calls should be made illegal as should withholding phone numbers. There really is no overriding justification for allowing these practices.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

While I agree a lot of it amounts to less than practical help dont forget Bieldman that Holyrood cant do anything of a major consequence to change things precisely because TELECOMMUNICATIONS is a reserved piece of Legislation – reserved to Westminster that is . So attacking them (Holyrood ) isnt logical .

Member
Tamsin Kilgour says:
19 September 2017

I have read the Scottish Government document, & even so am still not clear how they are planning to identify/prioritise their 500 vulnerable people.
I am already a member of TPS (having learnt of it through Which?) but receive at least 7-10 nuisance calls per week. I pay for caller display so am aware that these do not have numbers I can report, with the majority coming through as international.
I suffer from PTSD following an 8-9 year bullying campaign some of which was by phone (as well as face-to-face, by walkie-talkie across an organisation, post, online and doorstepping). As such I only answer unidentified calls when I have someone with me (which has enabled me to reduce some of them, as if you listen to recorded message one of options tends to be ‘press x to be removed from our calling list’). Would somehow the SG pick me up as vulnerable?
I do support their plan to start displaying call numbers from government bodies:
“3. Displaying a number for outbound calls
The Scottish Government does not display its number when making outbound calls,
which makes it difficult for members of the public to know who we are when we call.
In the coming months, we will be working to change this practice so that our number
is displayed, except where there are compelling reasons, such as security, not to do
so. We will work with public agencies across Scotland to do likewise” (Ref: A Response to
Scotland’s Nuisance Calls Commission –An Action Plan , Scottish Government Sept 2017)
Will DWP (nationwide, not just those benefits soon to be devolved)/NHS/Social Services follow suit?