/ 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.


We have had 4 calls in the last two weeks from two different companies asking for the same person who does not live here or exist at this address

Buy a BT callblocker phone. No more junk calls ! Any number not in contacts has to leave a message and phone then asks if you wish to take call. You then have the option to take call or block. I find that junk callers just ring off .RESULT !

I had an Indian asking if I had any windows and as I was in the mood to show-off in front of the grandchildren I said that they were fine and had just been cleaned. The poor Indian had to explain at length that he meant computer windows. I said my computer had a screen rather than a window. Eventually he got so frustrated he hung up on me! The grandchildren were overjoyed at seeing an adult misbehave.

Have a look at the composition of the Boards of Which? Ltd, and of the Consumers’ Association Ltd.

Over the last decade since the death of Sheila McKechnie who was a real campaigner Which? seems to be more “corporate” with more and more businessman and quango members on the governing bodies rather than “normal” people. I realise that in themselves they do not write the content however the attitude as “chat” rather than action for the organisation must be pervasive.

” “I am a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad and will remain so for the rest of my life. No government would ever feel entirely comfortable with me or the association because we are both fiercely, fiercely independent.”[1]”

Daily Telegraph obituary
” This record secured her appointment as director of Shelter in 1985. As she candidly admitted, she knew little about housing policy, but was quick to spot an organisation in need of reform.
Sheila McKechnie recognised that the organisation needed strong leadership, based on a reputation for political independence and objective research. She fought a tough internal battle to restore Shelter’s credibility by dragging it back to the political centre, at once earning the respect of Whitehall and the media, and upsetting some of Shelter’s “old hands”.
She made her mark on television with brisk denouncements of government policies towards the homeless. But Sheila McKechnie was unable to halt the Conservative Government’s retreat from public housing, or to persuade it to restore housing benefit to 16 and 17 year olds. This, however, was less a reflection on her campaigning skills than of the fact that housing was no longer as central to politics as it had been in the 1960s.
There was some surprise when she took up the post of director of the Consumer Association in succession to John Beishon in 1995, since she had never shown the slightest interest in the testing of washing machines or toasters. Moreover, the association was in turmoil. Circulation of Which had dropped, and staff morale was low after a strike over pay. The attempt to attract new subscribers to Which with hard-sell mail shots earned more public criticism.
But in the 1990s consumer issues were politically hot, and Sheila McKechnie was able to give the association a broader profile. She revelled in the description “super-complainer”, and spearheaded high-profile campaigns, whether for food safety, or against high car prices in the UK. She drew attention to the failures of the NHS and of privatised utilities, and attacked misleading advertising. The Which magazine titles were redesigned to give them a sharper, more outspoken campaigning edge.
Sheila McKechnie believed that the Consumers’ Association should develop as a focus for consumer activism. In 1998, the association linked up with a small company called Value Direct to sell electrical goods reviewed in Which at highly competitive prices. In 2000, she led a campaign to persuade British car dealers to cut their prices, launching carbusters.com, a website which enabled potential car buyers to receive quotes from overseas dealers over the internet.
At the height of the campaign, she turned up at the offices of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in a car painted with a Union flag and emblazoned with the words “the Great British Rip-Off”. She then delivered a letter to the SMMT’s chief executive, Christopher McGowan, dismissing the industry’s “feeble excuses” and demanding that it stop treating the United Kingdom as “Treasure Island”. Subsequently, several major dealerships announced they were cutting the prices of new cars.

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Sorry the first remark was Sheila McKechnie not me . It is true to say that after 30 years a shareholder member pf the Consumers’ Association I have become very awkward squad as I think Which? has seriously lost its mojo.

It cannot be taken over really as it is a charity aswell as a limited company. I see Patrick Steen talks of ” we’re doing more campaigning work than ever before, with a record amount of £12m invested in our charitable work”. I should clarify that at one stage the Consumers Association was effectively a not-for-profit single company where all money was in one pot. And as it owns Which? ALL the money is available – however over the last few years the commercial arm has been indulging in empire building not all of which seems sensible. The empire building is actually an attempt to widen the income base beyond the @ £80m from subscriptions though this rationale has never really been explained to the 7200 shareholders.

The £14.9m of earnings that were spent in India on launching a failed consumer magazine seems quite exceptional example of spending income. It was meant to be generating a £12m profit after a decade however it topped out with a 30,000 membership.

To take advantage of the tax situation we became the Consumers Association a charity that 100% owns the “commercial” Which? Ltd. Which? sells the magazines that for a large part are made up from the testing carried out by the Consumers Association. Basically a piece of magically conjuring extra money. The fact remains that despite the two companies [plus a couple of others] all the money is actually due to the Charity which is the Consumers’ Association.

Now having explained the companies – certainly within the organisation some like to talk of the commercial and charitable arms as this in the view of some justifies paying extremely large salaries to four executives on the “commercial” side. This year they will be earning in the hundreds of thousands pounds as salary and also share a £2.2m bonus. Generally speaking Which? staff do not appear to be well-paid at the lower levels.

Now the question is whether what Which? does with this £12m is well directed – my feeling is no it is not and I can point to specific instances where IMO Which? fails.

McKechnie changed a lot about Which? and it wasn’t always popular within the organisation. But she ensured the Consumers’ Association was always at the centre of things and she was a real force to be reckoned with. Her successor has allowed Which? to become a distinctly corporate affair, and I worry that the consumer and member has been sidelined.

Hi both, thanks for your comments and feedback. I just wanted to say that we’re doing more campaigning work than ever before, with a record amount of £12m invested in our charitable work to drive positive change for all consumers. We’ve achieved all sorts of campaigning wins and change, all helped by more than 600,000 campaign supporters.

The fact the problem of nuisance calls has been so popular on Which? Conversation is key to why we decided to take on this issue, and we’ve seen significant progress. You’ve really helped us get the issue on the agenda of businesses, regulators and the Government. We know the issue is not over which is why we’re still working so hard on it and we’re fueled by the comments and moving stories people have shared with us. I’m proud to be part of a community of individuals who have influenced so many Which? campaigns and achieved change for consumers. Of course, there’s always more we can do and it’s great that you want us to do even more campaigning, as that’s exactly what we want to do too.

How very diplomatic : )

The fact remains that Which? campaigned on the “call time on nuisance calls” which I think for the average citizen means an end to them.

This is not what Which? has been attempting to deliver in any way shape or form. Which? simply is failing to look at the technical fixes and what other countries offer – or if it has looked failed to tell us.

If CLI was mandatorily free as per Government regulation that would be a start.

No doubt though it could be spoofable by the advanced villain but for a fact the Telco’s must be able to identify mass mailing spoofing call behaviour

Given that GCHQ has remarkable powers perhaps the citizens for whom it protects could go that little bit further if the telco’s don’t have the technology

Talking about opt-outs etc is not a cure it is just a pathetic response. Explore the whole problem for Pete’s sake.

Patrick, I note that out of £24.6m publishing profits (presumably derived from members’ subscriptions) the £12m you mention above has gone on “promoting consumers’ interest”. The remaining £12.6m has been spent on “new ventures” and others, including the long term incentive plan (bonuses). I presume the research and testing that goes into reports in the publications comes out of subscriptions before profits?

Update on nuisance calls.

David Nuttall, MP for Bury Lancs, raised the issue, on behalf of Which? this afternoon during a Business Statement in The Commons, requesting the government look into the problem of nuisance calls. Leader of the House Chris Grayling promised they would look into it.

Dave Mc says:
11 December 2015

We’re on TPS which is fine. The real problems are those who withhold calls and International who get around this. Difficult for international calls but if any of the withheld ones are UK there needs to be a way to investigate.

Now that most of us have “private” numbers that will be known by friends and family members, why can’t we have land line numbers that are “premium rate” – i.e. callers pay us to answer them.

If call centres in the UK( or EU) had to pay 50p/minute to call me and if call centres outside the UK had to pay £1/minute to call me, then that might discourage them somewhat.

Even it didn’t, I’d receive some compensation for my time and trouble in taking their calls.

I think you can. ISTR a chap who had an 0900 number supplied to his house, in addition to his personal line.

Check out the convo entitled:
Lee Beaumont calls cold callers’ bluff with an 0871 number

Good idea and perhaps charge say £10 for anybody using a “spoof” or false number.

Pedr Williams says:
12 December 2015

A method I recently used to deal with these pests – I said “hello”, then after the usual rubbish reply spoken in an Indian or Pakistan accent I said in Chinese “I’m not happy to talk with you” . This produced an immediate rude, racist comment including remarks about “Chinks”, then they put their phone down. I haven’t had more nuisance calls from them for some time!

It was some years ago that I made my sentiments on the subject known via the TPS (Telephone Preference Service). As I understood matters I was making it known that I did not wish to receive any form of ‘sales calls’ – particularly as a stroke rendered my mobility to be greatly reduced. but No, my wishes seem to be taken as nought by those chasing the mighty pound note at my expense! It seems that my only means of stopping these ‘children of unwed parentage’ is to have my answerphone on all of the time, it seems that these ‘people’ are unwilling to leave me a message or phone number so that I can let them know exactly how I feel about their tactics.

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It is very stressful to receive so many unwanted calls and I’m with the tackling these nuisance call.
Many thanks Which for your effort.

I really hate these calls invading my little world; I think they are a horrible intrusion and I do not want or need them. I definitely believe that the companies involved should be punished for this practice which upsets and annoys so many people.

Jenny says:
13 December 2015

We used to get a lot of nuisance calls but since installing a answerphone they have reduced considerably it costs them money to ring so when it’s a answer machine they quickly cut off the call

Mike Williams says:
13 December 2015

Don’t respond to survey calls. The companies that make these are “lead generators” employed by BB as a way around making marketing calls themselves.

The latest offshore scam is where the caller uses a link to a UK number or ” private number” ; surely this could and should be regulated by the service provider !!

Arthur says:
13 December 2015

I have a call blocking number to use to after last call, also I have caller display, but now companies are getting wise to it by using web base unavailable so it does not register, so Im told by Talktalk

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Yvonne Walker says:
14 December 2015

I wish someone would look into nuisance texts. 3 network charges to STOP texts , therefore I’ve to ignore them and suffer each time I receive one. I don’t see why I’ve to pay to stop nuisance text.

It’ll come to nothing!

All companies, even the ones abroad should be fined for making nuisance calls which last till the evening. It’s about time something was done to stop all these companies from disturbing people.
Thinking they are untouchable, they have gone way too far.