/ Technology

Nuisance calls crackdown: the progress so far

One year on from the first report by the Nuisance Calls and Texts Task Force, we’ve found some good progress but there’s still more to do.

Last year the Government asked me to chair a task force to look at the causes of nuisance calls and what could be done to tackle this modern day menace that affects so many of us. Together with regulators and industry bodies, this task force set out 15 recommendations for businesses, regulators and the Government to help stop nuisance calls.

Today, one year on since these recommendations were published, we have been looking at what has been achieved in the last year. Here’s what we found:

Actions by businesses and industry bodies

There has been some progress from big business and the third sector. For example, SSE has made one of its directors accountable for nuisance calls, and telecoms providers are working with Ofcom to identify nuisance call activities. The Charity Commission, the Institute of Fundraising and the Fundraising Standards Board are working with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

However, the majority of companies have not announced or committed to making nuisance calls a board level issue.

Actions for regulators

Earlier this year the Competition and Markets Authority published a report on the commercial use of consumer data and has committed to play a role in any future regulation on this issue. The ICO is revising its guidance and has mystery shopped firms making unsolicited marketing calls and texts. It will also be holding workshops and consultations in the New Year looking at the wording of marketing consent.

Meanwhile, Ofcom is developing a process to register mobile numbers with the Telephone Preference Service by text and has opened a consultation to review its policy on how it tackles silent and abandoned calls under the Communications Act.

Actions for the Government

The big step forward this year came when the Government made it easier for the ICO to fine companies who are found to be making cold calls, and we’ve seen a number of hefty fines over the past year.

However, there’s been no progress on giving the regulator more powers to hold board level executives to account if they’re found flouting the rules – a key ask of our Calling Time campaign.

Meanwhile we’re still waiting on the Government to consult on legislation to introduce Caller Line Identification for marketing calls, making it simpler for people to see who’s calling them.

As yet, an awareness campaign aimed at businesses has not been launched and the Government also need to assess new policies, to ensure they do not lead to nuisance calls.

There’s more to be done


Across the UK more than 300,000 people have backed our campaign to call time on nuisance calls. Despite some good progress, we’re still seeing high levels of unwanted calls and texts so more work still needs to be done to put an end to this everyday menace once and for all.

The Government, regulators and businesses need to continue to work together, with further action to cut nuisance calls off at source and make senior executives accountable if their company is caught flouting the rules.

Comments

There has been no progress.

The number of nuisance calls continies to rise.

There have been millions of complaints and only a handful of penalties.

The current regime is seen to be failing. The proposed regulation changes will be seen to have little or no effect just like all the other minor changes that have gone before.

The figures shown on the ICO website do not show a decrease: https://ico.org.uk/action-weve-taken/nuisance-calls-and-messages/ How can you describe this as ‘good progress’, Richard?

What concerns me most is that Which? does not regard market research calls as nuisance calls. They are a great nuisance to me.

Hi Wavechange, It’s true but weirdly we need the numbers on that link to go up if we are going to tackle the problem.

We know there are billions of nuisance calls each year however, as your link shows, only a couple of hundred thousand are ever reported. The more complaints the regulators get, the more evidence they have to take action against companies. So far in the last 4 months they’ve issued nearly £1 million in fines. It’s why we created our reporting tool earlier this year to make it easier for people to get in touch with the right regulator.

Vanessa, Until the authorities are seen to be taking the process of punishment seriously many people will not bother spending time reporting calls. And whilst call blocking /screening devices are readily available and are doing a better job than the authorities people won’t bother reporting calls. I for one have now stopped reporting any calls, as the punishments are laughable and not worth my time.

My understanding is that the penalties announced can be challenged and there is also a discount for prompt payment.

Hi Vanessa – I was very supportive of the efforts of Which? but nuisance calls remain a big problem for many of us. For some months I had very few but they are back again.

My suggestions are that Which? should:

1. Push for legislation that gets rid of the need to register with the TPS to (in theory) avoid receiving marketing calls. Members of the public should be required opt-in to receiving their calls.

2. Push for legislation that allows companies to have their telephone service withdrawn if they make even a small number of nuisance calls.

3. Support the many Which? members who regard market research calls as nuisance calls. There are other ways of conducting market research that don’t involve people having to stop what they are doing to answer the phone.

I’m a great supporter of Which?, Vanessa, but it is obvious that a new approach is urgently needed.

A new approach would be for usage of the telephone to be banned in those sectors that are well known for making nuisance calls. Sector-specific regulators have the power to close companies down that fail to follow their rules.

Claims management companies are prevented from pounding the streets and banging on doors but are allowed to call people by telephone. In both cases, very many people have to be disturbed before a likely customer is found. Both activities cause substantial nuisance, yet one activity is banned and the other is not.

Discussion about “consent” is mere noise. No-one in their right mind would “consent” to receiving unsolicited calls from companies they have never heard of.

Progress is measured not by the number of rules in place, nor by the number of penalties issued, but by the number of nuisance calls being made. This continues to rise.

So far, the efforts of ICO and Ofcom have failed, and been seen to fail. More minor tweaks to a failed regime will not turn this around.

Precisely! OFCOM needs to be abolished and replaced. It is incompetent and in a cosy liaison with big business. I want to see company executives imprisoned if their company makes as much as one illegal call. If not imprisoned, then fined an amount sufficient to render them bankrupt and homeless. That would stop all illegal calls within the UK overnight. They have no excuse whatsoever for failing to check against the TPS register so it shouldn’t require more than a single verifiable complaint before the regulator takes punitive action against any UK company. The regulator should also publish individual offending director’s names, addresses and phone numbers so that the public can bombard them and their families with calls to make their lives a deserved misery.

Furthermore, as others have remarked, why doesn’t useless Which regard market research calls as nuisance calls, when clearly the vast majority of the public do?

In general, Ofcom regulates the suppliers of telecoms services, not the users. Ofcom also regulates in many other areas to do with communication by radio and broadcasting.

Ofcom has little involvement in the matter of nuisance calls except in exercising their ‘persistent misuse’ powers under the PECR when someone is making silent calls.

It should be individual sector regulators that ban the usage of the telephone for making marketing calls within their sector. At present, all sector regulators permit this activity even in cases where widespread annoyance is known to be caused.

I have used Which’s reporting tool several times to report the numbers displayed by cold-callers. But for almost all of the calls I now receive, the number that is shown has only 10 figures instead of the standard eleven (e.g. the last one was 01785 75326). My question is, can the firms behind these calls be identified, and is there any point in reporting calls from such numbers? I am not clear about this, and I have also stopped taking the time to report them. Please could you let me know if it is useful to keep reporting every call – the numbers are different every time.

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Esther wrote: “… the number that is shown has only 10 figures instead of the standard eleven (e.g. the last one was 01785 75326)”

There are dozen of areas codes with shorter than usual numbers, but 01785 is not one of them.

A Google search for [ 01 charge groups with 4 digit area code and 5 digit local numbers (4+5) asterisk ] will find a detailed list.

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I’ve noticed a huge decrease in nuisance calls to my landline, but no thanks to the “taskforce”. My BT8500 does the job. Yes I still get dozens of calls a week, but the phone remains silent.

I noticed the ICO claiming they can issue fines of upto £500k earlier in the year, Yet not once have they done that. Fines are still laughable small.

Someone was prosecuted earlier in the year for running a Microsoft windows scam campaign he got a suspended sentence. Again laughable.

Time to scrap the ICO, OFCOM and the TPS and put something with some teeth in their place.

Maybe then we can see some positive steps being done to curb this menace

When the ICO issues penalties, it is prevented from “causing financial distress” to those companies. It cannot close them down or cause them to fail.

Individual sector regulators have the power to suspend or cancel licences to trade, yet all sectors continue to permit nuisance calls to be made.

So the ICO penalties cannot cause financial distress to companies but the companies can cause distress to the public. For many, like myself, nuisance calls are just an inconvenience but they can be more serious for the elderly and disabled, who rely on their phones to keep in contact with friends and family, especially if they need help. Sometimes I wonder if the government is running this country for the benefit of its citizens or business.

If not causing financial distress for companies they can treat the fines as an operating expense that can be passed on to other customers.

why does this government allow false advertising and such false phone scams? No doubt they are receiving bribes to help the companies survive or something? Bring back the good old advertising standards people to make sure ads are genuine and phonecalls- who pays for my calls? I do. Who pays an expensive line rental ?? I do. Why should anyone be allowed to annoy me constantly on my phone that I pay for??

How I agree with you- these nuisance calls come thick and fast at all hours day and night whatever we join or do. I am fed up with the new numbers that you run to answer from anywhere in the house you are working or whatever that after answering remain silent and then say GOODBYE in an evil jeering manner. Here is the number they call from 002748512954. God knows what 002 means as an address. Please please someone tell me how to report this nuisanc ecall because I can’t see a way on which website

[This comment has been tweaked in lone with our community guidelines. Thanks, Mods]

Hello, our own research has found nuisance calls have increase too – three quarters of people with a landline had unwanted calls in the last month. And calls to mobiles have also been on the rise with seven in 10 saying they’ve had at least one nuisance call to their mobile in the space of a month compared to more than half in 2013.

However, there have been progress against the recommendations of the task force. You may also have missed that there was a massive £850k fine for a company that made 6 million nuisance calls earlier this month. But I agree, as you can see above, there is so much more that needs to be done. The Government, businesses and regulators need to step up their game if we’re truly going to see an end to this menace.

FYI the £850k fine was issued by the Claims Management Regulator (CRM) and not the ICO. The ICO needs to learn from their example

Hi William, yes the highest fine that the ICO can give is £500,000 but they too have been issuing more fines in the last few months. We need all of the regulators to crack down on nuisance callers so it’s good to see action being taken.

But we also want the Government to allow them to be able to take action against senior individuals in a company if they are found to have been breaking the rules. If I was running a company and was personally liable for the fine, I’d want to know what was happening and make sure that the marketing team had consent for any calls they were making.

Well you would if you thought you would be caught – and if you take the precaution of going off-shore ………

As I have posted previously I think Which? is not being aggressive enough on this matter. It is not learning from how other countries tackle the problem, and even where entrenched direct marketing are neutering the solutions.

Perhaps someone knows something about modern exchanges will confirm the ability to monitor mass calling originators. The telco’s surely have some idea but are benefitting from the traffic so little incentive to do much about it.

Mandatory free CLI might get some action from them and perhaps compete as the Canadian telco in the last Conversation.

Given Richard Lloyds experince in No.10 I fear his vision is very much operating at the top and discussions with people in the direct mailing industry. Under Sheila Mckechnie Which? was much more active as a consumer body even if in the days when using the Internet muscle was impossible.

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It should only be necessary to say once I do not wish to receive these calls from you. If the calls persist its not cold calling it is harassment and the company should be prosecuted to the point where it is not viable to make peoples lives a misery

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Once again another tale of civil service pussy-footing about and fancy-dancing around the problem with no resolution in sight.

It might be worth having a discussion on whether or not Which? becomes compromised once it gets into close discussions with government and other official bodies. The path to hell is paved with good intentions and this story is a good example of pious promises that have failed to fly because of government or regulatory inaction. Meanwhile the government can still trumpet that it is “working with Which?” on the problem. Yes, so it might be, but it’s not getting very far and that damages Which?’s credibility.

My own view is that there should be no embedded cooperation with the government until a full-time Consumer Affairs Minister is appointed and consumer protection services are given the resources they require. Without that it’s just grandstanding.

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I find the number of calls have increased and my stress levels is making me ill because of it ! Have felt suicidal because of these calls that do not seem to go away , yes I have ignored their calls , yes I have told them no , yes I have registered with preference agency !! I hate the sound of the phone ringing , I hate it that these calls fills up my messages and any important call does not get the chance to leave their messages ! I cannot afford the new type of phone that does automatic blocking etc !! Would anyone I wonder be willing to help in any way , I do not know how much longer I can bear this !!!!!

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Nice gesture, Duncan, but there are a lot of us on fixed incomes that do not have the money to pay BT for these costly services. Shouldn’t they be free to vulnerable people – BT make enough profit after all?
I will not Now donate to any organisation that gives a phone number for donations. I did it in the past to my cost and was inundated by cold calls!

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As I said in a previous conversation this subject has been discussed to death but no-one seems to listen. Until all cold-calling is made illegal, all selling of personal data is made illegal, nothing will change.

I have 93 z-ignores on my mobile phonebook and only started adding them earlier this year when I got fed up with answering them. There are still countless more calls that come up as 0000 or blank or no number or number withheld or private. I did report a few but can’t be bothered any more as it seems pointless when there is little hope of them stopping.

There are many comments that say Which? is not listening to what people are saying right here on these convos. They don’t want ANY nuisance calls including charities and market research. I believe those at the top of Which? have a conflict of interest and they need to decide whose side they are on.

I would like to know why I have had a huge number of nuisance calls on my landline over the years but whereas I can only remember two calls (from the same number) to my mobile number, which I’ve had for nearly 15 years. I don’t know if it is significant that the landline number is registered with TPS and the mobile is not.

Wavechange, I presume it is because you give out your landline number most when asked.

The majority of nuisance calls are to my mobile as that is the number I give out most. Still get them on the landline as well though.

Both phones are registered with TPS.

Mobile scam numbers are appropriately dealt with on SCAM 7726. You need to send them the cold callers number… I have very little problem with my mobile as a result of this.

I have heard of sending spam SMS texts to 7726 but not phone numbers.

Which? compromised?

Well Vanessa Furey [authoress of this thread] did tell us some people liked receiving cold calls and yet has never provided the figures to back up this statement.

Which? ran a discussion group of insiders on “calling time on nuisance calls” and made recommendations. I think Which? is being neutered. Note that December 1st two new businessmen were co-opted to the Consumers’ Association Council which currently consists of six co-opted and six elected members chaired by a co-opted Tim Gardam who comes direct from Ofcom. One of the new businessmen is from Ofcom.

http://www.which.co.uk/about-which/who-we-are/whos-who-at-which/the-which-council/
or is it becoming the second home for ex- and existing quango members?

I will be posting an open letter to the Community Forum signed by some shareholder members about what is happening to this charity.

The companies are based abroad. The solution is to force the telecoms companies to implement software
solutions to block the nuisance calls.

i have invested in a BT true call phone and its amazing still how many nuisance call i receive , this device is great , but i now i get nuisance calls on my mobile , the worst at the moment is o2 despite complaining direct to them. They should be fined a lot more, its like being fined 50 P.

@Pat

Are they trying to sell you a new phone or contract?

If so, they are probably not o2. Ask them if they are o2 or calling on behalf of o2. If you take them up on an offer, there is every chance you would find yourself in a contract with another company.

My suggestion is, reduce landline rental prices to zero if we accept these darned nuisance calls and the government cannot do anything worthwhile to stop them. If I did not pay for a land line enormous sums and vat. maybe I would be less angry about the calls. If they want to annoy me day and night then they MUST pay for my landline rental (same for mobiles- pay me per call from unwanted nuisances and unwanted ad texts)
I would gladly let them phone me if I was not paying an enormous monthly fee for a landline I do not use.

Several calls a day from scammers based in India and elsewhere. There needs to be internaional action – chasing a few rogues in the UK is pointless as almost all are from outside the EU. The Govt should set up monitoring (and talk to ‘whocallsme’ and others already receiving reports of scams) and instantly block all numbers found to be scammers. For example, after data was elaked in Indai, TalkTalk customers are plagued with calls from the same overseas numbers so why does the Govt not act instantly to block them?

I cold call in industry – but many of us find that a reasonable form of comunication – there is a far higher chance of the receiver knowing what the caller is talking about, being able to sit back and take time to make a decision and its our job to know what we’re doing & what’s on the market

and its done in work hours – just part of the ‘normal load’

somehow in the consumer sector it just stinks – the sellers are spivs, the backup negligible, and it is an intrusion on our valued privacy – even if we’re not vulnerable

for the vulnerable it can be extremely damaging

perhaps a register – financed by those doing the selling –
and personal accountability
note the length that amazon / paypal go to in order to sift buyers – that’s at least a start

The only unwanted calls we receive now are recorded messages from Private Numbers, press a key to be removed from our list – I should be so daft. Because they are recorded there is no one I can have fun with, waste their time, practise my Anglosaxon on or otherwise annoy a bit though let’s than they annoy me. Since they are Private Numbers, there is no number to report. Putting a bar on all Private Numbers is not practical because there are people who contact us on private numbers, not least my elderly mother in law who can have an emergency.

The only solution to these calls is drastic. It needs providers of telephony services to take steps to identify these calls and block them at source.

kevin says:
9 December 2015

I am ‘profoundly deaf’ (NHS Classification) so I have set a spoken autoresponse on my iPhone saying “The person you are calling is deaf. This phone can be used for text messages instead”. Seems to work well, judging by the ‘missed call’ listings it now shows, none of which I recognise or find traceable on Google, and which quickly ‘die out’. I plan to set a similar one on my landline “… … please leave your name, contact number, and the purpose of your call for my use when I call back”. In other words, force the devils to ‘break cover’.