/ 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…


Anything that might help protect us from nuisance calls is very welcome but I wonder if this will help the many who have registered with TPS to avoid marketing calls.

If companies are breaking the law by ignoring the fact that you are on the TPS register, will they be good enough not to withhold their number when calling? Will the scammers oblige by providing their phone numbers? That seems unlikely.

As I see it, the only way to resolve the problem of nuisance calls is to make unsolicited calls illegal and work with BT etc. to track down the offenders.

I completely agree with you Wavechange on making ALL unsolicited calls illegal. It is the only way to stop the misery it causes to so many people.

If Baroness Hayter thinks this little law will make any difference, she obviously doesn’t answer her own phone.

Wavechange, Completely agree. It should be made illegal to make unsolicited calls to private numbers for the purposes of marketing and “surveys”. Perhaps with an opt in if you don’t mind being pestered everyday.
The TPS is useless, I’ve been registered with them for years and I still get plenty of sales calls and sales calls under the guise of surveys.

The big problem both with TPS and any legislation to outlaw unsolicited calls is that many of these calls come from nuisance callers abroad who won’t be bound by our systems and laws. Don’t really know the solution to that other than perhaps have an international call acceptance on/off switch on our phones.

Chris – As was pointed out to me recently, it is already illegal for companies to make direct marketing calls if we have registered with TPS. However, without effective enforcement, legislation is worthless.

Telephone market research is legal, unfortunately, and I believe that we have been told that Which? has not intention to take action except where the rules are broken, for example when calls purporting to be market research are in fact marketing calls, which is very common.

In my view, nothing less than a ban on all unsolicited calls is acceptable, and the phone service providers should be required to provide the information needed to take action against organisations and individuals so that it is simply not worth the risk to make unsolicited calls.

I would be happy for individuals to opt-in to receive market research and marketing calls, though the danger is that this would provide scope for ‘mistakes’.

It is very sad that BT is making a profit from selling call blockers rather than taking action to stop nuisance calls.

I’m not receiving nearly as many nuisance calls as I used to but I still want to be vocal about this for the benefit of those who are, especially the disabled, elderly and those who work night-shifts. According to Patrick, we are due to hear some positive news from Which? soon.

surfit.uk says:
6 December 2014

Chris, I have a display on my phone and simply don’t answer if I don’t know the caller. If it’s important they can leave a message and I can get back to them. Simples !

Gerry says:
11 December 2014

Letting an unrecognised CLI go answered certainly isn’t the answer to nuisance calls as far as I’m concerned.

It still means I’ve been disturbed (or woken up if I were a shift worker), and it still busies my line for genuine callers.

Many telephones now let you choose to switch unidentified calls (those without a valid or an unrecognised CLI) direct to the answerphone. You can then invite the caller to leave their name, number and business if they wish you to return their call. So no uninterrupted sleep off shift duty!

Gerry says:
11 December 2014

@ terfar

Wrong, wrong, wrong !

Why should VICTIMS of this anti-social and illegal behaviour be expected to pay for an expensive special telephone / answering machine, to pay a monthly fee for CLI and to pay to return genuine calls?

I hope you’re saying that it’s the system that is wrong and not me. I gave you a solution to the current position so that you can get undisturbed sleep.

As I have posted elsewhere on this forum, I pay a Telco for the line rental and the phone service. I should not have to suffer all the unwanted nuisance calls.

My point was that there is a remedy for the current dilemma but admittedly, it does require some investment which is wrong.

I strongly stand by my main position in that I believe that CLI should be mandatory. No exceptions whatsoever. There just isn’t a reason not to use CLI.

But we also need an enforceable law, an agency to run it and a change in attitude to zero tolerance of illegal cold calls.

Gerry says:
12 December 2014

@ terfar

I appreciate your suggestion of buying a clever telephone and paying for CLI information. Fortunately I’m not a shift worker so nuisance calls aren’t as disruptive as they could be.

But I strongly believe that it’s the authorities’ responsibilities to take much stronger legal and technical action against nuisance callers (e.g. by JAILING directors of companies that pay for sales leads obtained from foreign call centres ringing numbers on the TPS list).

Instead, telcos etc just prefer to profit by flogging expensive phones and services. That’s what’s wrong: they should be forced to take action at network level, e.g. blocking transmission of calls with invalid CLIs and providing free blocking services (CLI display, ACR, Choose to Refuse etc).

However, individuals must be allowed to withhold their CLI, otherwise there would be no whistleblowers. Similarly, I don’t want to be bombarded with pestering calls for years afterwards if I phone around for insurance quotations but don’t buy.

I think we are pretty much agreed with all of that. It’s getting the government to make the necessary enforcement laws. Unfortunately, most of the government comprises technophobes or MPs with an interest in supporting these practices. And then of course, there’s all big companies that have the clout to pay for ‘professional’ lobbyists (something else that I hate about how the government works).

At least we have Which? and a couple of other on line helpers.

So it’s just marketing calls then; if they call it a survey or an information call then they don’t have show their number or have I misunderstood the article.!

The nature of the information collected, whether general and anonymised or specific to the called party, makes a difference as to whether the purported “survey” is really “direct marketing” and therefore not legal.

Totally agree with you Ian,; but as the article reads it would be up to the nuisance caller to determine whether they were making a marketing call or not. If they think it’s a survey then there’s no need to disclose their number; clearly this cannot be acceptable.

Column 914 states “They need to obtain prior consent for automated marketing calls, e-mails and fax messages”

I have never knowingly given my consent to automated marketing calls.

Anyone know how you withdraw your consent without it costing you money?

The Ofcom website says you will not be charged if you press a key to speak to someone during one of these calls. If companies can spoof their CLI and con money out of you, I am pretty sure they are more than capable of generating money out of responding to the call.

1)-The need to obtain consent has been law for 11 years, but the law is never enforced.

2)-As for withdrawing consent; if you know which organisations have legally obtained your phone number, then you can send them an email. Of course it won’t stop those who have obtained your number illegally, most of them will never give you their name and addresses in the first place.

James says:
4 December 2014

I agree 100%

alfa, You say “I have never knowingly given my consent to automated marketing calls”

Well if you ever got a “survey call” and answered just one question you have given that consent. That is how they get around the system and it’s legal, although obviously not in the spirit of the rules.

So don’t do surveys either.

As for withdrawing your consent I don’t know but it makes little difference anyway when most of these nuisance calls come from abroad where they are not bound by our rules.

Like I said elsewhere we an “international call acceptance” on/off switch on our phones.

The other thing I noticed in the article Column 915, is that we will have to pay for the privilege of seeing who is calling us if it is not provided in our phone package.

I would have thought there was as much cost involved in preventing you from seeing the CLI as there is letting you see it.

This is a really good point. Landline providers have historically surcharged for CLI, yet mobile providers have always provided CLI as standard ever since it was introduced. The only reason to surcharge for CLI is to facilitate a misleading indication of price of the line rental. If an operator excludes a surcharge that most people need to pay (for a basic feature of the telephone system), then it makes the line rental look cheaper than it really is. For example, why not also surcharge for the facility to make the telephone ring when there’s an incoming call? This would be equally as unreasonable. Ofcom should clamp down on this silly surcharge, which is not objectively justified.

NFH – You could equally well argue that no-one should have to pay to retrieve voicemail on a mobile, which can work out very expensive for PAYG users. Both CLI and voicemail are useful services and there is the opportunity for service providers to make money from those who use these services.

I would have thought the CLI would travel down the line along with the phone call whereas retrieving a voicemail would involve making an additional phone call.

My point is simply that CLI is a useful service and provides the opportunity to make an additional charge. The point in Mark’s introduction is not about whether CLI is chargeable but the need for those involved in direct marketing being required to make their number available rather than withholding it.

CLI is not a service, but data. The data containing the caller’s number is carried on every phone call. Even if the caller withholds their number, the caller’s operator only sends a flag to withhold it and the data is still carried; it is then up to the called party’s operator to hide the data from the called party. One service that I use for incoming calls doesn’t always hide it, so I can see most or all of the caller’s number even when it’s withheld.

It is absurd for operators to deliberately hide a caller’s number from the called party on the basis that the called party hasn’t paid a surcharge. This data is carried anyway and is a standard part of the telecommunications systems used to deliver calls.

Voicemail is an additional service and is not a standard part of the telephone system. Personally I hate voicemail, both for myself and when I call other people. I would be delighted if operators started charging for it, but they won’t do so because it allows them to earn termination revenue for unconnected calls.

As I see it, it is a service because it is charged for. From BT’s website: “You’ll need caller display compatible equipment to use this service.” If companies can make money for providing extra features they usually will.

I cannot understand why smartphones don’t record messages, making voicemail services unnecessary.

CLI is not a service, but a built-in always-on feature of the public switched telephone network. Hiding the output of this feature from users who don’t agree to pay a surcharge does not mean it is an additional or separate service.

I cannot understand why smartphones don’t record messages, making voicemail services unnecessary” – If a smartphone doesn’t receive the call, because it is out of coverage or switched off for example, then how would it be able to record a message? This is why voicemail is implemented at the network level. Voicemail is very much an additional service, although one that I wish was not enabled by default.

OK, let’s call it caller display, which is referred to as a service by BT and my phone provider. If you are not happy about then contact Ofcom. I’m trying to use everyday language that most people will understand.

Voicemail messages could be relayed to the handset when it is switched on a signal is available, just as text messages are.

I used the term CLI as this was the term used above in the main article. Call it “caller display” if you prefer, but it’s the same thing. But it is still not a service, but a standard feature of the telephone system that is always active. There is no justification for the called party’s network to deliberately suppress this data from the called party by virtue of the called party not paying a surcharge. The mobile networks have never engaged in these silly CLI surcharges, so why do fixed line providers?

Voicemail messages could be relayed to the handset when it is switched on a signal is available, just as text messages are“. The GSM standard doesn’t allow for this, whereas it does allow for SMS text messages. For such a system as you describe to be implemented, the networks would have to develop apps to receive the voice messages with push notifications and delivery over IP. This is far too complex and expensive to implement, when the customer can simply call the voicemail number.

@wavechange – I’ll put this another way: Imagine if your e-mail provider surcharged you in order to see the sender’s e-mail address. In the same way that CLI data is included on every phone call, the sender’s e-mail address is included on every e-mail. It is equally absurd for a provider to levy a surcharge in order for the provider to refrain from hiding CLI data as it is to refrain from hiding an e-mail sender’s data.

And to think email addresses can be spoofed too. Making it an even more apt example.

Thanks for the information about how voicemail works on mobiles, NFH. It can be expensive for PAYG users, but thankfully it can be switched off.

I very much support all phone users having free access to Caller Display because it can help identify nuisance calls.

I assume that some companies charge for Caller Display on some tariffs simply because it is an opportunity to make more money, and that’s how business often works. Fortunately my phone service provider does not charge on any tariff. I’m going to carry on referring to Caller Display as a service because that is how it is commonly described, but thanks for letting us know how it works.

David N says:
11 December 2014

Absolutely agree with you on CLI.

Not only is a network feature sold as a ‘service’, but the markup is huge.

Openreach’s wholesale price to telecomms retailers is £1.50 per quarter – my provider marks that up by 100%.

And Openreach’s pricing is itself open to question – £6 p.a. for Call Display – essentially a bit of software – vs £93 p.a . for copper, networks & switches

From Mark’s introduction: “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. ”

I think it is time for us to decide whether this country should be run by the government or by companies. I do not know why direct marketing by telephone was allowed in the first place, but the problem of nuisance calls has grown in recent years and must be stopped.

Reading 951 [which usefully could have been named as a link to Hansard] I note our European partners are much more on the ball with deciding what areas of EU legislation need tweaking.

I wonder why Germany is so much further ahead of us in dealing with this matter. And in fact how their legislation works and can we learn from this, and what is being considered in Italy and France.

As a technical point regarding rogue calling I would imagine it would not be impossible for telecomms companies to identify mass-dialing and check it against approved numbers. Making Telecomm providers somewhat liable to fines might encourage them to look at spam type behaviour and preventitive measures.

With regard to the question of someone giving consent to be contacted. It should be a legal requirement that when requested a calling company MUST be able to provide written proof that consent was given. Failure to do so should be the same as no consent was given.

Agreed. And they should also have to disclose the precise source of your name and number. When I received these calls (note the past tense as I’m now enjoying having no landline), I would ask where they got my name and number. They would often reply “It’s in our database”, to which I would ask them where the database had obtained my details, and the conversation went on fruitlessly. If callers don’t disclose this, then it makes it very difficult to identify the root culprit and put a stop to it.

4 December 2014

Our problem is these wretched calls from India perporting to be from Microsoft or Windows!!! We have even gone ex directory for a new number and still they come. I was caught up in a scam by these criminals and so am very wary. If you challenge them they soon hang up, The problem is that we can not ignore withheld numbers as we have many calls from Doctors and Hospitals so can not take that risk.
Surely something can be done to block calls from abroad or even just India!!!

I noticed above the priceless quote:

“other than those who have a legitimate reason to withhold it (such as the police or the NHS).”

It’s time we ditched this deferential attitude. Why should the police and the NHS, both of them our servants and not our masters, have such a privilege? How come it is ‘legitimate’ for them to conceal their number?

No-one who hides their identity gets through my filters now and I don’t care whether it is the Archbishop of Canterbury, no number, no connection.

To protect our privacy.

Oh? How? It just means that another two groups of ‘mystery callers’ get to plague us creating concerns about who called and why. Then, no doubt, local authorities, the Royal Mail, and any other organisation that considers itself to be a branch of the security service will ask for the same privilege.

No thanks, I want the same protection of privacy as I enjoy in my garden and on my doorstep. No identity, no entry.

If something the Police want to say is so important then it can be put in an envelope and posted. If the ‘NHS’ wish to contact me privately then likewise.

A requirement to disclose should apply to all organisations not just a narrow definition of ‘marketing calls’ or, otherwise, we will get another decade or two of ‘surveys’, ‘focus group calls’, ‘liaison cals’, requests for charitable giving etc. etc. When will people learn that organisations of all types simply cannot be trusted?

The next step of course is to tighten up on the data underlying their assault on our privacy and peace.

alfa, You say “I have never knowingly given my consent to automated marketing calls”

Well if you ever got a “survey call” and answered just one question you have given that consent. That is how they get around the system and it’s legal, although obviously not in the spirit of the rules.

So don’t do surveys either.

As for withdrawing your consent I don’t know but it makes little difference anyway when most of these nuisance calls come from abroad where they are not bound by our rules.

Like I said elsewhere we need an “international call acceptance” on/off switch on our phones.

I agree Martin. The Police and the NHS withhold their numbers so they don’t come up on caller display. So one might answer a withheld number just in case it’s say the hospital only to find Mumbai calling again. Almost defeats the whole principle of caller ID doesn’t it?

There is no reason the Police and NHS could not have “Police” or “NHS” come up on the caller display screen rather than “withheld”. It would protect the number they called from just as well and cut down the instances of us actually answering the Mumbai nuisance calls.

There is every reason to not let other members of the household know that someone from the Police, NHS, ChildLine and a myriad other organisations is calling.

Very true. We must be careful what we wish for sometimes.

Maybe we could ban overseas “withheld” numbers to start with and see where that takes us.

If you don’t want the ID display, turn it off or don’t subscribe to the service.

CID must be compulsory.

Child Abuse Help Line?
Alcoholics Anonymous?
Pregnancy Test results?
Domestic Violence/Abuse?

Can you think ….. of others?

Many folk need protection from others in their household.

Ridiculous. Samaritans, AA, etc does not appear as such unless YOU program such into your telephone’ directory. All that displays is the number. So it’s an idiotic reason to not have compulsory CID.Even if the phone doesn’t display Samaritans or AA, what stops someone else answering the phone first?

“Ridiculous”? “Idiotic”?

If the number’s on your display, you can Google it.

If they leave a message “Hello, sorry to have missed you. Thank you for calling the Child Abuse Helpline …..”.

And yes, someone else answering the phone and impersonating the abused child IS a problem …. a very, very real problem.

It is NOT something that should be trivialised by our discussion of being annoyed by salesmen.

You know little about the procedures in use by childline.

Guys, let’s be polite to each other even on these very sensitive topics.

terfar, yes you’re quite right – I know nothing about their procedures – I just used it as an example for dramatic effect.

But I’m always ready to learn and I’d be very interested to hear how they deal with the problem.

Well I won’t tell you how they ensure that a child isn’t compromised that way for obvious reasons. But your argument was flawed because in your example CallerID would not have prevented that message being left. Be assured that it would never happen with or without Caller ID.

Think about any organisation listed: would they call a client and leave a compromising message on an answerphone or pass on any private information to another person? In fact, if the correct person answers the phone, seeing the correct callerID displayed would give some reassurance about its legitimacy.

CallerID is no different than writing a letter to someone: would you write a letter without adding your name and address? So why would you expect to call someone and remain anonymous?

Your correct. I should not have been so confrontational. But I have always had a bee in my bonnet about the way the government backed down on caller ID. I think that rejecting it is being a luddite!

Just had an email from Which? giving 2 options – both that nuisance call firms should be fined.

I think Which? should send this again with::

Sorry to shout Patrick, but nobody seems to be listening.

the service providers could be made to provide a facility to bar incoming calls from specific numbers free of charge, this facility together with mandatory CLI could put a stop to most unwanted calls, now we just need a method to tackle incoming calls that show up as ” international”

Since buying this http://www.maplin.co.uk/p/cpr-call-blocker-n46qc
I no longer get hundreds of these calls and when I do a push of a button adds them to the list.
I can also add missed calls from numbers like 000012345678 apparently they are computer phone lines

We shouldn’t have to prove they are a nuisance, they should by law have to join a system where people can register if they don’t want any sales calls! with big fines if they do!

Something happened yesterday which I had not experienced before yesterday was a cold call by text on my landline. It was identified as an 0845 number and a prerecorded message from BT came on saying we had a text message. The message turned out to be from a gambling company offering free betting. Where had this come from? Is this a new way of side-stepping future legislation about cold calling?

Gerry says:
11 December 2014

This is a service that allows text messages to be sent to a landline phone and automatically converted to speech.

Call 0800 587 5252 from the same line to opt out of receiving any Text To Speech alerts or to set curfew times between which these alerts will not be sent.

You’re late demanding that CLI be mandatory. I argued right from inception that optional CLI was blatantly wrong. The ‘freedom of privacy do-gooders’ and telephone businesses were in cahoots and lobbied Parliament to force BT into making it an option.

Despite all the positive arguments put forward – particularly the emergency/safety argument – the lobbyists again won the day. One wonders just who was bribed to make such a crass decision.

So decades of aggrieved and abused telephone users have followed, some people losing large sums of money all because of the do-gooders. They should step forward and pay everyone affected compensation.

I am tempted to buy one of the nuisance-blocking phones reviewed in the December issue. But I am discouraged because legitimate callers who don’t enable CLI will be blocked- with no indication to them of why.

It would seem to me to be a simple engineering matter to add to these phones the facility to play a recorded message, saying “I do not accept unidentified calls. If you really need to talk to me, call again, revealing your number.”

Why doesn’t a manufacturer offer this?


Most telephones with an answerphone facility let you record your own message. So leaving a message such as,

“I do not answer calls not using Caller ID, so please leave your name, number and business. If you are legitimate, we will call you back.”

CLI should be mandatory for all regardless of race, religion, etc. There’s absolutely no valid excuse not to use CLI.

@Chris, Was one of the phones reviewed the BT 8500 ? The default for withheld numbers is they must announced themselves if they don’t the phone doesn’t ring. Bit of a pain for the genuine caller, but hey, UNBLOCK your number then. Simples.

I had an automated phone call about government insulation grants which for once I actually listened to up to the point where it offered the option to unsubscribe but then it cut off before it gave the number. This is a classic example of how these firms will simply flout any potential future restrictions that are not legally enforced by large fines.
I did have a cold call recently asking if I was fed up with unsolicited calls and offered me a device to intercept them and block them. I did find it amusingly different especially since they could put themselves out of business in the long run.

My elderly father says to callers, “I am 95years old, blind,deaf,lame and skint. ‘Bye, then hung up.

He and my adult son, who has Parkinson’s are both wakened from naps, stagger shakily to the phone and then find it is a sales call.They NEED their sleep and are in danger of falling.
It is beyond me why stronger govermnent action is not taken.

Anne says:
6 December 2014

We leave our answering service on all the time. Some genuine callers (whether companies or friends) do start to leave a message and we can decide whether or not to pick up the phone. Friends know we may be at home. Unsolicited callers generally hang up – they are mainly caller witheld or international out of area.

Caller display I have had about 20 calls from 01983810085 these arre silent calls but when I tried to call this number does not exist so they can conceal who is calling.

Loads of them do this. It should be just as illegal to falsify your CLID as it is to conceal it. Likewise ‘legit’ organisations such as doctors, councils, police, banks etc. should be prevented from withholding their numbers.

Brian M says:
6 December 2014

It just amazes me that these companies cannot see the utter pointlessness of calling someone who has registered with the TPS to prevent such calls. Isn’t it obvious that the call will be an utter waste of time in respect of achieving any sale when it is so evident that the call is unwelcome.