/ Technology

Can you see the number that’s calling you?

what's your number

The Which?-led Task Force on Nuisance Calls will soon publish its recommendations. Before then, the Government has made another concession to help you tackle unwanted phone calls…

In response to an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill tabled by Baroness Hayter in the House of Lords, the Government has promised to make it a legal requirement for companies to use Caller Line Identification (CLI) when they make marketing calls. See column 915.

Now, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what CLI actually is. I once saw an interview with TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding, who, after her technical people had explained what CLI was, exclaimed ‘oh, you mean it’s the phone number that’s ringing me’. That’s exactly what CLI is – the number ringing you appears on your phone’s caller display.

Standing up for caller display

Mandatory CLI is something we called for when we first launched our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls campaign, and goes further than the Government’s Action Plan which came about due to your support. And CLI matters, because without it not only is it hard for you to know who’s calling you, it’s also very difficult to report unwanted calls to the regulators.

In Autumn 2013, both the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport and the All Party Group on Nuisance Calls backed our call for mandatory CLI. As did Alun Cairns MP who tabled a 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament.

In March 2014, the Government said it preferred a voluntary approach in its Nuisance Calls Action Plan. However, after we wrote to six leading trade associations requesting that they meet the terms of the voluntary Direct Marketing Association code of practice on CLI, we only got a positive response from one of them. Now, a year later, the Government has backed it too and all marketing calls will legally have to come with CLI.

Knowing who’s calling you

Caller display won’t solve nuisance calls – firms that already ignore the law will no doubt continue to do so and fail to send their CLI – but it will certainly help. If you have a landline phone with caller display, you’ll be able to see the number that’s calling you, other than those who have a legitimate reason to withhold it (such as the police or the NHS).

Meanwhile, Ofcom continues to investigate the more complex issue of how to stop marketing firms ‘spoofing’ their CLI, and ICO will try to take enforcement action against companies that continue to flout the rules.

Now there’s the small matter of getting this CLI concession implemented as soon as possible – hopefully in 2015. I think it’s time to make a call to the Government…


There doesn’t seem to have been any mention of unwanted calls from other than marketing calls.
Over a year ago I started getting 2 or 3 calls a day with a recording starting “This is Mike”…followed by unintelligible mumble. I never listen to automatic calls and clear down. These calls come from various UK numbers also withheld, unavailable and international.
Looking up the numbers on-line it seems I’m far from alone and that the calls come from a company called MMF of Leeds which is a debt collector and the calls threaten they will pay you a visit if they don’t get a response. I have no debts and presume these calls are fishing and they only have a number and no other information.
These calls are deliberate harassment every day and need to be made illegal.

In virtually all of the MMF cases they have been given the wrong phone number by somebody. If you tell them to stop and they don’t, then it’s harassment and a Data Protection Act breach as well.

Yes Castle, of course it is, but the problem then is in getting anyone to do their duty. West Midlands Police told me that such behaviour is ‘not a crime’ and flatly refused to do anything or to provide a letter to enable me to get my service provider to disclose who was calling me up to five times a day whilst witholding their number. No number or identity and no-one else is interested. How many days of my time am I supposed to use doing the jobs of all the agencies and regulators who are failing to enforce the few rules that we do have?

Josh, also above, is right, marketing calls are only a part of the problem. My parents were besieged by charities, financial scammers, debt collectors (who would simply not accept that they had had no loans and had not ordered from mail order catalogues and not paid the bill) in addition to the usual sellers of everything under the sun.

The ONLY answer is to make privacy and control regulations centred on the receiver and not the caller. It is no different and should be no different to the principles and laws that apply to visitors entering property and standing on the doorstep.

Martin, in my case I actually issued a county court claim against MMF for damages and it was settled at mediation. But of course, as you say, getting anybody to take up a criminal prosecution is a totally different story even if you know who’s calling..

D. Dowdell says:
6 December 2014

If my ‘phone’s display says ‘Withheld’ or ‘Out of area’ I just put the phone down.
If the display shows a number not in the handset’s Phonebook, I usually answer it, but whatever name the caller asks for, I reply, ‘Just a minute – I’ll get him’, and lay the ‘phone down (without ringing off). A couple of minutes later I do hang up, assuming I’ve wasted some of HIS (or her) time.

This is a step in the right direction. I seem to have come up with a simple, no cost (to me) solution. All calls to my landline are answered by my answerphone after two rings. My message tells callers that all calls to my number are screened and if the call is for marketing or research purposes it will not be answered. If they do need to speak to me leave a message with their phone number and I will call them back. Nuisance calls have dropped from 5 or 6 a day to 2 or 3 a week! Its been worth the ridicule from friends.

I had an early morning call (07.29). I was told – You have lots of clutter on your computer, let me take it over and I will clear it out for you. Well thanks for that I have had lots of trouble with it I said. Are you on your computer now? In bed I said. Well go switch it on and I will take over. That is unlikely to happen any time soon as what you may be trying to look for my bank details. I am 76 years old still reasonably sharp ,and have to be keep my money safe.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

That is an example of a scam run by criminals, one that is designed to defraud you.

It is run by people that are not complying with any of the laws relating to usage of the telephone, and never will.

I agree that CLI should be free, and enabled by default. Also the penalties for making scam/nuisance calls should be much more severe. I know there are plenty of call blocking phones and gadgets on the market (I have a Panasonic one, which is brilliant), but I really worry about the elderly/infirm and those who are not as sharp as they once were for whatever reason.

I have an elderly relative who needs her phone, and can just about manage to press the buttons to ‘dial’ a number, but even putting a name and phone number in the phone’s address book is pretty much beyond her now. She could never cope with the complexities of a call blocking phone, and I am not always around to help. I do hope the Government will take a hard line with these scammers, and good luck to Which in their efforts. A very important and worthwhile cause.

JohnB says:
7 December 2014

I use TrueCall and have done so for about 4 years.

This enables you to reject incoming calls from lists built up over time.

However it does NOT stop incoming calls from callers who withhold their number.

I hope we will get CLI firmly enforced some time soon!

When will our legislators and champions wake up and get a grip. I’ve just read the note and links in my Which? The Weekly Scoop and I’m appalled at what i can only describe as the wilful ignorance and willingness to put up with misinformation by vested interests and interference or possibly misinterpretation by/of the EU Privacy Directive.

As NFH and others have pointed out the CLID is data, not a ‘service’ and does not entail a cost of any kind to the Telco – except that we might choose to refuse to accept a call and that would mean they would not get the rather small payment that they get weh we answer a call. Yet, there it is in Hansard, the assertion that the Telcos are put to cost and trouble in providing this spurious service. They are not.

Then, even worse in my view, their Lordships were told that the EU Privacy Directive dictates that the calling party should have privacy and it is terribly weighty matter making exceptions to that ‘rule’. Sorry your Lordshits I think that is the wrong way round. It is we who are bombarded with calls that we cannot identify who require privacy and not the various interests who have either a suspect reason to cloak their identity or who think they are some kind of ‘secret service’ who should have the privacy.

As for ‘requiring companies making direct marketing calls to use CLID’ well, that alone will have a miniscule effect. Every reputable company that I know already does disclose because they would like you to ring back and continue the dialogue to a sale.

It is the rest, all organisations of any kind, who should be made to send their CLID. That includes charities (a major pest for my very elderly parents), public sector bodies, police and regulatory bodies, banks and financial institutions. Otherwise two things will happen. Many organisations that presently pester us will simply claim that they are not making a marketing call, merely soliciting donations, conducting a survey, disseminating government information (as businesses are now with the RHI) etc. etc.

This will do nothing for my sister in law who has two elderly relatives about whom she might receive emergency calls at any time and who has to make multiple calls to find out if a call she unavoidably missed was – the hospital, the surgery, the nurse, the care home, the sheltered housing warden – all these people cloak their numbers and all but the nursing home frequently fail to leave a message either because they do not know that their CLID is switched off or in the mistaken belief that they are the only ones to do this.

Privacy should be about we, the people, in our homes and not about the EU or our own government dishing out ‘privacy’ to organisations. We should work outward from that and think very hard about exceptions. Indeed, having thought hard I cannot think of any organisation that I consider to have a right or need to hide their number.

Hi all, today the Which?-led Nuisance Calls Task Force announced its recommendations, including holding senior executives to account if companies break cold call laws. You can read more about the 15 recommendations here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/nuisance-calls-and-texts/know-the-issue/

We’ve also invited Communications Minister Ed Vaizey to update you all on what the Government is doing about nuisance calls. You can talk to him here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/nuisance-calls-task-force-recommendations-ed-vaizey/

A very interesting article on reputable companies farming out “debts” to an agency who then bombard you with calls:

I trust that the Govt. task-force is on the case with this abuse.

Gerry says:
11 December 2014

There’s seldom any valid reason for the NHS to withhold their number. If they write to you, the envelope bears a prominent NHS logo, so anyone in the household can at a glance see who it’s from; withholding the source is obviously not considered to be an issue for written communications. Why should phone calls be treated any differently, especially as you have to call back or search online to establish the caller’s name?

The exception is if a healthcare professional calls from their residential number or mobile: it’s then rightly withheld because it would cause havoc if patients routinely called doctors’ personal numbers when they were busy with other patients or off duty.

Even then, a ‘presentation number’ could be used, which if the call were returned would say that the NHS had failed to reach them but would call them again if necessary.

Gerry. The health professional’s cli should display either a secretary’s number or the general surgery phone number. There is never a valid reason not to display a cli.

Telephone service providers must be made responsible for stopping unlawful calls, and provide imformation to the regulator oboist those who flout the law,I fail to see why I pay for a system that ignores my specific instructions, and then what’s to charge extra to give me some protection.
A company providing protection would attract masses of new customers.

Let’s face it, we only get these nuisance calls because they generate sales leads for companies that operate in the UK.

It seems to me that Which could stop such calls pretty quick if they found out the names of the companies who were paying for the nuisance calls – name them and shame them. Better still name and shame the owners, CEOs etc – and publish their home phone numbers.

Come on Which, how about it?

Good stuff Richard p but lets also have fines!

Which? is actually complicit in being the lead in a task force that was bound to favour some watered down system rather than strong action to stamp out the menace. If you read the 27 page report you will see it implicitly accepts that there is a right to call people at home once consent has by some means been obtained.

I think most people would think that in fact that nobody should ring you out of the blue to sell you anything other than following a very specific request by you – which is time limited say for a month after the rquest is made.


Is this the danger of a policy of being involved with legislation at the Governments behest where the consumers voice is meant to be articulated by Which? but in fact is seduced/neutered into being Chair of a cttee where a consensus will be the aim – and representatives of the industry are involved.

” Attendees
Richard Lloyd, Executive Director, Which? (chair)
John Mitchison, Head of Preference Services, Compli
ance and Legal, Direct Marketing Association
Jan Smith, External Affairs Director, Call Credit
Anne Marie Forsyth, Chief Executive, The Customer C
ontact Association
Kevin Rousell, Head of Claims Management Regulation
, Ministry of Justice
Fiona Lennox, Executive Director, The Communication
s Consumer Panel
Steve Wood, Head of Policy Delivery, Information Co
mmissioner’s Office
Lynn Parker, Director of Consumer Protection, Ofcom
Mark McLaren, Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Manag
er, Which?
Thomas Oppé, Task Force Adviser, Which?
Michael Bristow, Marketing Operations Manager, Barc

Thanks for the link Dieseltaylor. Though I appreciate the effort that Which? is putting into getting rid of nuisance calls, I agree with you that their approach is not strong enough.

As I have said several times the only solution that is likely to work is to suspend the phone service of companies that make unsolicited calls.

This could be stopped by FCA, CMR, Ofgem, etc, banning the use of the telephone for lead generation and cold calling and irrespective of whether the calls are made direct or contracted out to some other company. These regulators have the power to suspend or revoke a company’s licence to trade.

What I don’t understand is why anyone buys goods or services from someone who phones them out of the blue. I never have and thanks to the hassle that nuisance calls have caused me, I never will.

Hi Wavechange. A true sentiment, but it’s more difficult than that. Very often the cold caller comes from a company that you have never heard of previously. When challenged, they say that you gave permission to one of their partner companies on line but hide behind the DPA and refuse to divulge who.

That’s one reason why I believe that it should be mandatory that when challenged, anyone cold calling must produce documentary evidence that they have had permission clearly showing the ‘third party’.

Frankly, if it creates an administrative nightmare for the callers I’d be delighted!

I agree Terfar, but I cannot see any practical way of ensuring compliance.

Rather selfishly I sometimes wish that the companies shared information and they would learn that I never buy anything as a result of marketing calls.

steeley says:
17 December 2014

It will make no difference to all the scamming companies based outside the UK.
BT make plenty of money from all these calls so they have little incentive to do much about it.

Gerry says:
17 December 2014

JAILING the CEO of any UK company that buys sales leads from overseas companies that call TPS numbers is the Magic Bullet that would certainly stop this part of the problem ! Fines would only be a trivial overhead, but even the threat of a month’s mandatory jail would instantly work wonders.

Getting the evidence is easy, the regulators just need to instruct BT to have some fake ‘honeypot’ entries in the Phone Book. BT have done this for many years to catch companies copying the directory entries, so the principle is well established. You can even use the same idea yourself, when your TPS number is called just say that the person with your name has moved, and that you’re Mr. L. Driver and have had a crash. When a UK company with a genuine name subsequently asks for Mr. L. Driver, then you have the proof to take action against them.

Admittedly, fraudulent calls (e.g. ‘Microsoft Helpdesk’) are another matter, but getting rid of all the nuisance calls for PPI, road accidents, double glazing, solar panels etc would be easy and straightforward. What are we waiting for?

Could you explain how BT makes money from these calls?

BT charge you for caller ID.
They will also sell you a phone to handle nuisance calls.

They could use these things themselves to fight nuisance calls but then they wouldn’t be able to make money out of people’s misery.

I think it is disgraceful that BT are making money from selling phones to block nuisance calls when they should be helping tackle the problem.

“BT charge you for caller ID.” you can kind of get round that by paying for your line rental a year in advance. You effectively pay for 10 months and get 12 months line rental. Even though caller ID is “free” if you do that, you do still need to activate it.

“They will also sell you a phone to handle nuisance calls.” I just got one as my 10 year old phone was dying. It certainly does the job.

I listened to, what I recall, was a government spokesman on Radio 4(?) earlier this week (15th December 14). The gist of the discussion was, to me, a weak attempt to placate the consumer whilst attempting to put a “balanced view” where companies had a “right” to make the public aware of their products. The way that the discussion went reinforced my belief that lobbying is alive and well with “the people’s representatives”. When big money is to be made by BT (coincidentally, one of the culprits) and the legal profession, then where is the incentive to stop it? Ofcom have already proved to be totally useless in this field so until then, I will continue to waste their time as much as possible when receiving calls, providing that they can be answered!

Which? is in the curious position of being a business needing to sell memberships and a business for representing the views of subscribers. It seems to me that subscribers take a very much harder line than Which? itself presents via the Task force it headed at the Govt.s request.

Robin Bentley says:
19 December 2014

The whole business of annoying calls will never change until Government takes strong action and refuses to let the companies off. They probably do not get them as their numbers are only known to a select band of people so how do they now the upset it causes. The worst offenders are PP sand international callsas well as people telling you that there is a problem with your computer and then demand money. That surely is illegal, but no oner can it appears do anything to track down these low life creeps

This comment was removed at the request of the user


Judging from the comments some solutions are not easy to implement. However it must be said that this whole situation is providing plenty of sales opportunities for those promising to prevent incoming unwanted calls..

Given that te NSA and GCHQ have the capability to monitor all telephone calls, and I suspect identify very busy numbers, one might feel that it is a problem that is soluble if there was any political will to put rogue mass-daillers out of action. If firms use automated diallers then they should be licensed – as such those for the flood defence schemes. being allowed and those not licensed being terminated.

Well things have certainly improved from 2006 …… not. Perhaps they just moved off-shore.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Probably a very obvious comment – I apologise in advance if it’s no help.

Most BT phone firmware comes preloaded with several “useful” speed-dials – including their directory enquiry number …. 118500.

And they disable the delete/edit options for it!

And another thing ….
I’ve just noticed the charge for 118 500 enquiries ….. 59p per call plus £2.39 per minute.
Does that £2.39 per minute continue for the whole call if you let them connect you?

Gerry says:
26 December 2014

Yes, BT will keep charging you an amazing £2.39 per minute, even if you’re calling next door’s landline when it would normally be free.

This meant that a single DQ call with onward connection could easily cost an older person more than a week’s state pension.

However, in act act of extraordinary generosity, BT have recently capped the total cost of a 118500 call at a mere £20.00 (inc VAT).

The NHS should use CLI, because it is a public service provider and many people want to block numbers that don’t .

I agree, we should not be harassed by callers who withhold their number. Fortunately, I discovered the BT8500 but it should not be necessary…… sadly it also stops necessary calls from my Dr’s and hospital.