/ Technology

Do nuisance calls cause you annoyance or anxiety?

Landline phone

Making change happen can take days, months or years – and thanks to the support of our community and our campaign supporters, our joint work on the menace of nuisance calls is continuing to pay off.

Earlier this year we secured action from the Government to tackle nuisance calls and texts. Some of these changes included potentially lowering the threshold for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to take action against cold calling firms so that calls only have to cause annoyance rather than ‘substantial distress’.

Other key wins included introducing new regulations to let Ofcom and the ICO share information on rogue companies. The Ministry of Justice was asked to consult on whether PPI cold callers should face fines of up to 20% of their annual turnover. And we at Which? were asked to lead a task force reviewing how people consent to receive marketing calls.

Well, since the last task force meeting two weeks ago, a lot has happened. Two MPs asked David Cameron what the Government was doing to tackle nuisance calls during Prime Minister’s Questions, a further 15,000 petition signatures have been received for our campaign, and the Government has confirmed firms could face stricter fines through the launch of a consultation.

Stricter nuisance calls fines

The six week consultation will consider lowering the legal threshold before firms responsible for nuisance calls and texts can be hit with fines of up to £500,000.

The law currently requires the ICO to prove the conduct of a company caused consumers ‘substantial damage and distress’. The Government either wants to reduce this to causing ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’ or by removing the test altogether. Either would represent a very important reform to the law.

The consultation closes on 7 December so please keep sharing your examples of how the calls cause you annoyance or anxiety. We’ll be submitting evidence on your behalf to ensure this key proposal is turned into action.

Changing the rules so it’s easier for regulators to punish the companies making nuisance calls is a big step forward and a victory for the 129,000 of you who have already supported our Calling Time campaign.


I believe that there should be a TOTAL BAN on unsolicited calls, except where someone has opted-in to receive them. I appreciate what Which? has been doing to tackle the problem but the only effective solution will be a total ban.

cooper says:
28 October 2014

I have just purchased a set of four telephones from BT called BT8500 which can cut out unwanted calls 100% it is claimed. Mine have been succesful so far. Good luck!

The new BT8500 phones are based on the very successful trueCall technology.

Previous BT offerings do not compare.

@cooper; @Ian: Re:BT8500

For now I’ll give BT the benefit of the doubt, albeit a considerable and substantial doubt and hope that the BT8500 has not inherited the same software bugs that hampered the BT6500.


I bought the BT4500 with 3 handsets in the last 12 months. It seems to work well in blocking calls.
I also set it up to reject all calls where the number display was deliberately withheld. This does not stop unsolicited calls, but makes it easy to block them!

Last year when I started talking about cold calls on the radio & TV etc i always asked for a outright ban on ALL cold-calls.

But then I was on BBC Leeds and a elderly women called up saying how she love cold calls. She was talking about how she gets so lonely and each time the phone rang it made her happy and she could talk to someone – it was heartbreaking to hear.

So while yes, loads of people do hate cold calls I am really in 2 minds now to be honest.

(I still think about that women now and wish i offered to go round for a cup of tea and a chat etc, hope she is ok).

Lee, perhaps she could turn the tables on cold callers and call them up several times a day, for a chat – that’s if she has an inclusive calls package.

Lee, this is an organisation called ‘Silverline’ for lonely elderly people. They will arrange to ring her once a week for a chat. It’s a wonderful service from what I hear.
None of us should be subjected to coldcalls and the lady you talk of is so so open to scammers and such like because she is vulnerable.

We already have a choice, it’s call the TPS; we just need the authorities to enforce the rules.

Castle, it doesn’t work and enforcement depends upon reporting chapter and verse to the authority, which is not practical for the victim because it takes up far more time than the cold calls. So, we need to eradicate the problem at source by making cold calling pointless by absolutely no one playing along, or by making cold calling for survey or marketing to private numbers illegal. Can’t see that piece of legislation making it to the statute book somehow, much as I’d like it to.

The TPS are worse than useless. I have been on there for years and the calls are getting worse

The TPS is not fit for purpose, I have registered with them and I still get an increasing number of calls,I once asked a cold caller where she got my details from as I was registered with TPS and also ex-directory, she said that I must have done a survey.

I always ask that question and always get that answer too! If I had filled out the number of surveys these companies say I have, I wouldn’t have time to eat or sleep! It’s their bog standard answer.

When we stop getting them I’ll know you’ve won! Until then, the campaign should go on.

I have a dual sim mobile phone and give out my 2nd sim number to almost everyone. I never give my landline number to anybody but friends, family, GP and hospital. I let my mobile go to voicemail when I hear the 2nd sim ringtone. In the two months I have used it I have had an average of 1 call a day but no messages. I use this number any time I do not wish to supply a number but can’t proceed unless I do. My landline number is private and I plan to keep it so.

@Figgerty: “I have a dual sim mobile phone and give out my 2nd sim number to almost everyone. I never give my landline number to anybody but friends, family, GP and hospital. I let my mobile go to voicemail when I hear the 2nd sim ringtone”.

Great advice.

I don’t have a dual SIM but I use a dirt-cheap PAYG. I turn the ringer off and leave it on a shelf.
I don’t even know about incoming calls until I check it once-in-a-while and drop into ‘smug-mode’ when I see the count of missed calls.

It’s a brilliant use for the old phones that most folk have probably got in a drawer somewhere.

Emlyn says:
3 November 2014

I get very few on my mobile but a constant flow on my landline (7 on one day last week, from 8.15am to 8.45pm). I could go ex-directory but there are good reasons for not doing that.

I have gone ex-directory in the last month or so but I am not sure it will make any difference as my number is ‘out there’ on a list somewhere

My elderly neighbour gets many cold calls and she is so polite to them they keep calling her back. Instead of telling them that she is not interested and not to call her again she apologises for not having the time to deal with them and when they suggest they call her some other day, she agrees. She is a lovely person and does not wish to upset them. I warn her about the scams committed over the phone and she does not think ‘people are like that’. Luckily, she does not have a computer!

Too many of us Brits are still too polite with these scammers!
Five or so years ago I used to be too-not any more-I tell cold callers to bugger off-or worse!
Apart from getting it out of my system, it helps in ensuring your number won’t be sold on to another telemarketer.
Always google the number-if not withheld. There are quite a few online sites where you can read of other people’s experiences with these squalid little criminals.

Whilst only one person in a thousand either buys from a cold call or does some survey or agrees to an appointment these calls will continue. Any legislation will be so mild as to be ineffective and the cold call centres will soon find a way to continue as normal.
The only way to stop these nuisance calls is to make it pointless for the cold call companies to make them in the first place. So stop being polite, don’t agree to some survey, don’t agree to an appointment and certainly don’t buy anything. If we all did this these calls would eventually stop. The solution is really in our own hands. I fear however there are too many silly people out there who get suckered in when the phone rings and therefore things are unlikely to change very quickly.
Everyone could make a positive start though by letting cold callers know you resent the intrusion, by asking to be removed from their dialing list and/or by making each cold call very very short. And don’t be nice to them, they don’t deserve it.

I don’t know about others, but I’ve done all that. Without facing up to the problem and making cold calls illegal unless we opt-in, I expect the debate will continue for years. I wonder if there is any legal way of costing these companies money with minimum inconvenience to ourselves.

Well Wavechange, you are obviously not that one in a thousand I was talking about that makes it economical for the call centres to carry on being a nuisance. I like the “opt in” rule you suggest. However we must remember that if you complete a phone survey you are effectively giving them permission to cold call you, effectively an “opt in”. That too is how many get around the TPS rules.
So don’t do any surveys either. In fact soon as you realise it’s a cold call hang up no ifs no buts.
This applies to a lot of free competitions too, never give a phone number with the entry, you will be “opting in”.
Like I said if we all did these things the calls would be pointless.
We just have to find those one in a thousand fools who play along and convince them to stop.

I don’t give phone numbers or other information over the phone unless I initiated the call. If I think it may be a genuine call I look up the number and call the company or other organisation. I never do phone competitions. Market research calls are legal but I see them as nuisance calls that should be opt-in too.

There’s always going to be a small percentage of people who respond positively to nuisance calls, which is why of amount of public education is going to solve the problem. That’s why a total ban is the only solution I can see working.

Some days I feel like unplugging the phone, Chris. The only positive thing I can say about nuisance calls is that on a bad day they can drive me out of the house, which gives me a bit of exercise.

Apart from the scam calls from “Microsoft”, most of my many cold calls are automated and a recorded message asks me to press a button to respond (PPI/insulation/new boiler/double glazing/etc.) I’m afraid there’s no quick way to express your displeasure to these and simply picking the phone up confirms to the calling system that the number is valid.

Yes, nuisance calls cause me to break out in cold sweats, shaking etc, Why? Have you tried filling in Ofcom’s report a nuisance call? The same details are needed to be entered for each time you get a call, when only the callers numbers , type of call, content of call and date/time are different from the last call I reported. The regulators don’t help Their website may be fine if I only have 1 call to report a year but several a week is distressing.

And why is the fine only £500k why not 110% of turnover, so what if they end up going bust. If the company can’t meet that fine that make the directors pay the difference. And maybe ban directors from ever holding such a position again.

These companies are blighting lives, please don’t be “soft” on them.

There should also be a “central” mechanism for reporting calls, and that should be down the phone line. I can guarantee 100% of people getting nuisance calls have a phone, I can’t guarantee they have a computer, even when they’re getting calls about their non existent computer.. So you should be able to enter a code during or immediately after a call, the phone provider knows alot of the info that’s need to report the call, they have after all connected the call..

Oh, and Caller ID needs to be free for all.

“Caller ID needs to be free for all.” – I was just going to say the same thing – and it should be supplied as standard with every land-line.
I know this wouldn’t benefit everyone, as there are still people whose phones don’t have a display screen. But it would be very useful for the vast majority of people.

I have tried to report calls on Ofcom and nearly lost the will to live! You need a lot of patience to navigate the site for starters. Why should we be plagued like this? It is a complete invasion of privacy and whilst I am tough enough to just about cope (apart from my lack of sleep after a night shift), I worry for elderly vulnerable people. Not fair.

Calling Line Identity cannot be relied upon.

When you are called by a business or from a VoIP line, the number that you see on the Caller ID screen is NOT the telephone number of the particular line that is calling you. It is only the ‘presentation number’ that they want you to see and which they programmed in from their end.

You never get a call from an 03, 08 or 09 number. The call actually comes from a normal landline or mobile or from a VoIP connection. The caller can override the system from their end such that instead of seeing the real number of their line on your display, you see only the telephone number that they would like you to dial should you decide to call them back.

This has a legitimate use. When an outbound call centre calls you, they will have arranged for your Caller ID unit to display the telephone number of their inbound call centre.

When a scammer calls you, they may adjust the CLI to show the telephone number of some organisation, such as your bank, in order to try to trick you into believing they are calling on behalf of that organisation.

Until people realise how CLI actually works, they will continue to fall for various scams and cons
perpetrated by telephone.

@William, I agree with being able to enter a code during or after the call as a way to report it.

A lot of these calls are fraudulent so why can’t they be picked up by a fraud squad and dealt with? A 3rd party listening in to the call should be able to take immediate action to put a stop to it.

@Ian, these numbers might not be their true identity, but they are very useful for adding to your phone book as z-ignore (puts them at the bottom). They do give up after a while until they use another presentation number.

@Ian: “When you are called by a business or from a VoIP line …..”

Spot on.

Is there a smartphone app so the rest of us can fake our caller-id?

A little voice in my head is saying it’s illegal under the Wireless & Telegraphy Act?

@alfa: “A 3rd party listening in to the call should be able to t…”.

That’s a really positive idea.
Calls being tagged as possible scams get the GCHQ treatment and the scammers get to have ride in a big, black SUV with obscured windows.
This has really cheered me up – thanks again, alfa.
PS Not being sarcastic …. this is as serious as I ever get !

And your comment about caller-id is spot-on as well: “these numbers … are very useful for adding to your phone book as z-ignore …”.
Just what I do.

Shall we form a Mutual Appreciation Society?

I agree that reporting to OfCom is a chore, and think that one ought to be able to register as a regular complainer with userid and password. then one would not have to feed in name address, telephone number and e-mail address several times on some days.
One problem I have also is that when a person is on the line for once and announces their affiliation at the beginning of their message I often cannot understand that name, even if they repeat it at my request. I do not wish to waste my time, or encourage them, by persuing the matter so I usually put the phone down. But it is no longer a silent call, or an abandoned call, by the OfCom definiitions and, without a telephone number being displayed, I do not know how to formally report it with any prospect of action!
Where a number is displayed, an increasing proportion start 004 or 008, and I assume that these are from abroad and need to be classed with ‘number withheld’ or ‘internalional call, no number available.
Presumably co-operative action on an international scale is likely to be needed to stop these nuisance calls. Over to you, Which.

The problem with Ofcom’s reporting website is in the way they’re written it, on every input field they’ve got an autocomplete=no in the html. It would be a 5 min tweak to remove them

I can only assume that they’ve actively trying to discourage people from reporting nuisance calls.

I am very interested to know if Which? is, as implied here, supporting the option to lower the threshold to that of “annoyance and anxiety”.

If I’ve registered for the TPS then any call I’ve not asked for should be counted as a nuisance call with the full force of action taken against the caller, regardless of how it makes me feel.

Some of these your computer is infected calls are in fact very funny to me, as they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about yet I’d still like action taken as they are attempting to commit fraud and breaking the TPS rules regardless of the fact its from oversea of not.

Time to stop playing softly softly with these companies.

Yes we are. This is the quotation we put out in response:

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, and chair of the Government’s task force on marketing consent said:

“Changing the rules so it’s easier for regulators to punish the companies making nuisance calls is a big step forward and a victory for the 125,000 people who supported our Calling Time campaign.

“Millions of us endure unwanted calls and texts every day so these new powers must be introduced as soon as possible. We look forward to the regulators using them to crack down hard on the unscrupulous firms that flout the rules.”

I am very disappointed to receive a positive response to my question.

I am astonished that Which? disagrees with both the DCMS and the ICO on this point.

I do hope that those involved in this process understand what they are doing and are not seeking to misrepresent very modest tweaking of a demonstrably failed approach as if this were some kind a “victory”.

Whilst I doubt that many of the 125,000 will be very excited at the prospect of the ICO being able to impose financial penalties in a few more of the less serious cases, I would expect that most of them would prefer the option recommended by DCMS, rather than that supported by Which?.

The government is clearly playing politics with this, having waited 15 months before acquiescing to a simple request for an obvious tweak which was presented formally by the ICO in July 2013. The timing of the introduction of the change will fall before the General Election, whereas it will only be later that the lack of any significant impact will be seen.

I recognise that Which? has chosen to get openly involved in Politics, by accepting a government appointment and by offering endorsement of general election manifesto commitments, so perhaps one should not be surprised at some spin – even if unaware of Richard’s background!

Apologies, I now realise what your comment was referring to. When I replied I had not seen the questions proposed in the DCMS consultation paper. Which? has not yet decided what option we will argue for. Well, I can be clear we will not support option 1. For the benefit of other commenters, the consultation gives 3 options:

1. Do nothing
2. Lower the threshold to ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’
3. Remove the existing legal threshold of ‘substantial damage and distress’

As you note, the ICO and DCMS favour option 3 so that seems likely to be one that will be adopted. However this still means the ICO would have to be satisfied there had been a serious contravention, whereas Option 2 could mean a larger number of cases, though it could be too many for the ICO to cope with. Either option 2 or option 3 would represent a very important reform to the law. The key thing we need to remove from the legislation (PECR) is the ‘substantial damage and distress’ test.

Thanks for the confirmation that you, at least, did not know what you were talking about.

Mark is however quoted above as claiming that the likely adoption of option 2 (not option 3) is the victory that has been secured by Which?, after many years of effort.

Why was Which? not calling for this change in 2005 or 2010 when Ofcom’s Nuisance Calls penalty powers were adjusted? Those adjustments were heralded with the same degree of hype as we are seeing now, whereas they have had what I fear will be the same minimal effect that will be delivered by these even more modest changes to the ICO powers.

Did Mark also not bother to read the consultation before stating, “The Government wants to reduce this to causing ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’” or was he perhaps reluctant to admit that Which? and its 150,000 supporters, want an even less radical change than that favoured by the government? Obviously an admission of this difference of view would deny the opportunity to claim a victory.

Richard displays either a total misunderstanding of what is currently proposed, or knowledge of a government proposal that has not yet been announced, when he is quoted above as referring to an ability to “prosecute” firms making nuisance calls. Why is Which? now claiming that it has secured the introduction of “making nuisance calls” as a criminal offence? If there is to be a late amendment to be tabled in the discussion of the Consumer Rights Bill, why is there no detailed explanation of this in the text of this conversation?

Without the benefit of 150,000 supporters, I have long been pointing to the evidence that the ICO can never hold sufficient powers to act firmly to stop the practice of Nuisance Calls, because it can only enforce a single set of very generalised rules for everyone. Furthermore, the extent to which it can impose a penalty, which is not addressed by the current consultation, despite the implication that it is, will remain severely limited – it cannot cause “substantial financial damage or distress” to the penalised company.

A start is being made by getting the Claims Management Regulator more seriously involved, but the proposals are far too weak. I believe that the CMR should be asked to consult on whether telephone marketing is a suitable vehicle for the promotion of claims management services by both licensed claims handlers and, more importantly, their lead gaining agents (who are the group probably responsible for the largest section of nuisance calls). A total prohibition on use of leads secured by telephone marketing in this sector is worthy of consideration. This would directly impact unknown offshore operators, as it would dry up their source of revenue. This prospective measure to have a significant impact on the volume of nuisance calls experienced is however way outside the scope of the ICO, the “Consent Task Force, the Calling Time campaign and the government Action Plan.

We join with Citizens Advice in proposing that similar considerations be undertaken by the FCA in relation to debt management services in particular – or perhaps all financial services.

We firmly believe that each sectoral regulator is armed with both the relevant knowledge and the strong powers for enforcement to ensure compliance with an effective regime covering telephone contact by, and on behalf of, those they regulate – including suitably refined and relevant regulations covering “consent” to all forms of contact (including those not covered by the PECR).

My efforts to secure progress with this issue, since 2003, have repeatedly been obstructed by those, including Which? and its 150,000 supporters, who foolishly hold with the idea that the proven failures of the ICO and Ofcom to be able to have any impact on the issue of nuisance calls, over more than 10 years, are due to some very modest inadequacies in the drafting of their powers. Even after modest adjustments have been seen to make little difference in fact, they continue to celebrate every successive further adjustment as if this were a major victory and claim that it is going to be the one that makes all the difference.

I accept that there may be some who simply do not have the time or skills to be able to look properly at the issues. There are however undoubtedly many who are concerned only with making the right noises and jumping on a political bandwagon.

OK – well that is Politics!

I do hope that we are not facing the approach to Politics commonly followed under totalitarian regimes.

This is especially relevant in this context, because the mission statement of Which? promotes the principle of Anarchism – “Which? exists to make individuals as powerful as the organisations they deal with in their daily lives”. Surely the owner of a website should not be able to exert more power over its own contributions than individuals are able to apply to theirs!

I now find that my reference to Mark McLaren having stated “The Government wants to reduce this to causing ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’” appears to have been mistaken. Has Mark simply removed the evidence of his alleged error, rather than offering a correction and apology?

Those reading this page might think that it is I who should apologise for misquoting Mark! Even though I am unable to adjust my contribution, I am not convinced that I was wrong in what I said.

Ooh – the Politics are getting very ugly! and neither of us is standing for election – or is that true? (I am not.)

David – I think you are being rather unkind to Which? I can certainly relate to their mission statement. Every day, companies seem to be finding new ways to exploit the public. What is wrong with consumers working together to fight this? Which? is not promoting illegal action to the best of my knowledge, but often we are fighting those who are acting in an unreasonable manner or even breaking the law.

Can you tell me why you don’t support introduction legislation to make unsolicited calls illegal, supported by penalties sufficient to ensure that we can enjoy peace and quiet in our homes? I am referring to calls from companies and other non-governmental organisations with which we have no current business or other involvement. Which? has not given us a reason, to the best of my knowledge. If you look through the various Conversations, there is strong support for a total ban.

Unsolicited commercial calls have increased as the termination rates for calls to landlines have plummeted. Therefore the significant cost for the cold callers is now manpower rather than telecommunications costs. I recently moved home and I decided not to have a landline. I am now enjoying the lack of nuisance calls.

Most of mine are on my mobile.

David – I continue to be disappointed that Which? is not pushing for a total ban on unsolicited calls, unless we have opted-in to receive them.

I would be interested to know where you stand on this.

Like William, I’m heartily sick of nuisance calls. The number of people calling has certainly gone down but I’m now getting more recorded messages.

What you suggest, with reference to “direct marketing” (with a very wide definition), is what is already in place. The issue is about how to achieve compliance.

Which? and many others favour the retention of the existing approach (with some modest tweaks) despite the fact that this has clearly been shown to fail.

The fair telecoms campaign notes the fact that effective regulation of the activities of businesses is carried out on a sector by sector basis with each of the regulators holding and using strong powers to enforce compliance with regulations tuned to the specific circumstances of the sector. We propose that this capability be engaged, rather than attempting to define new rules that apply to a widely different set of circumstances. We believe that some sectors should impose a total ban on telemarketing (e.g. Claims Management), as it has been shown to be improperly used and is ill suited to the nature of the service being offered. Others could (perhaps) have a much more liberal regime.

I am disappointed that Which?, as well as wanting to retain limitations on the ability of the ICO to impose penalties, disagrees with us on this also, and continues to support the approach that has been shown to fail.

I don’t agree that this is in place, David. At present, the onus is on every one of us to opt-out of receiving marketing calls. Why should we have to do that? Why is anyone allowed to disturb us without our permission? I can envisage that some people might want to opt-in to receiving calls offering car insurance or double glazing if they are looking for offers, but no sane person is going to want a wide range of marketing calls. That is why they need to be either banned or opt-in.

I’m glad you are keen on a total ban on marketing in some areas, but what I and many others want is a universal ban.

I agree that compliance has not worked. In my experience the problem is not as bad as it was a couple of years ago but I often receive several calls a day and I am heartily sick at this intrusion, especially now that I am retired and often at home during the day. One possible solution would be to instruct the telephone service provider to withdraw their service if they make nuisance calls. Perhaps one day for the first offence, then one week, one month and permanently for the fourth offence.

We can agree that Which? is not doing enough and I wonder how many more years it will be before we have a total ban on unsolicited calls and severe penalties for those organisations/individuals that make them.

In principle there is no reason why every telephone company could not register the numbers of all of its customers with the TPS. That is what BT tried to do – to stop competitors stealing its customers by telemarketing – and others followed this example, in some cases without bothering to check that customers were happy with this (TPS registration does not require actual consent – anybody can register any number). That would get around the opt-out / opt-in situation – applying the “total ban”, but I do not see that as being the major problem.

In fact it is only attended voice calls that are subject to the need to opt-out through the TPS. Automated calls, text messages, emails and faxes are all subject to opt-in – when they are for a “direct marketing” purpose.

The universal enforcement powers held by the ICO, along with its resources for handling cases, are far too weak to address the situation that has been allowed to develop over the last 11 years. Very little will be changed by making the long overdue and obviously necessary tweak that is currently out to consultation. (The consultation is wholly unnecessary, as the case for removal of the general obstacle to imposition of a penalty in minor cases is unanswerable. The level of any penalty must be proportionate to the scale of the damage caused anyway, and it can never be so high as to cause substantial financial damage or distress to the offender. The fuss is being made for purely Political reasons and it is interesting to note who is making the most noise.)

Our concern is not specifically with the penalties that are imposed when breaches of regulation can be identified and acted upon – always a tricky and difficult process in a relatively liberal country – but with the most effective way of stopping the calls being made. That is the focus of our proposals to use regulators that are known to be effective, especially when they can cut off the sources of funding relied upon by unregulated agents (e.g. of PPI and other claims management companies), often offshore and difficult to identify and trace. In some cases regulators hold the licence to trade – a power which is at the other end of the spectrum from the capabilities of the ICO. The most important point is however that traders in regulated industries pride themselves on total compliance with the relevant codes of practice (regulations) that are in place.

It may sound foolish, but I see the ultimate objective as being to avoid the need for anybody to be punished for breaches of regulations, insofar as this can be achieved. There will always be rogues and they need to be dealt with, but I see no harm in taking the taking the steps necessary to stop highly reputable companies from making nuisance calls, because it sounds more macho to talk about “severe penalties”.

We believe that every regulator – they are already in place covering most of the areas from which nuisance calls are generated – should look not only at “direct marketing” as defined for the purposes of the PECR, but at all of the telephone contacts that may, or may not, be proper in the sector that they understand and control. They are all directly responsible for serving the particular interests of consumers and citizens affected by the companies they control, which includes access to products and services in a properly competitive market. They can apply the considered moderation and balance of these interests in ways that generalised regulation is bound to get horribly wrong, probably ending up having to be so weak as to deny the opportunity to be stronger where this appropriate.

It may be a nice job for Richard Lloyd to lead a group trying to come up with workable universal definition of “consent” – that covers everything from a friend sending you an (unsolicited) online birthday card, which was “free” for them because it includes an invitation to purchase some service, to the acceptability of your MP getting your number from the phone book so as to discuss your reaction to a local planning application. These are just two random examples from the myriad complex issues that are raised by the terms of the EU Directive, from which the PECR is directly taken. I would rather that attention was given to progress in an area where we could have a realistic expectation of something valuable being achieved.

The ICO is proved to have failed in fulfilling a role that is way outside the scope of its normal activities, and one can safely dismiss the possibility of any new more powerful general regulatory bodies being created by any parliament in the next 15 years. All of the Parties likely to have a significant role in government are firmly committed to the principle of fewer regulators – even though one or more of them may benefit from a “Which? Best Buy” endorsement logo in its forthcoming general election manifesto.

Individuals also have ways of preventing themselves from receiving nuisance calls, but this often requires them to cut themselves off from calls they do want to receive – this is what commonly happens with the over-simplistic call blockers and other widely used methods. Individuals must be free to take these approaches, and there is one call filtering technique that we see as being wholly effective, but we do not see this as being a proper answer to the problem in general.

As a consumerist organisation that declares the purpose of its existence as being to make individuals no less powerful than the agencies of the state, we recognise that Which? will obviously always take a very different line on this. It is bound to favour the individualistic approach over any potentially effective measure taken by the government. I cannot be sure that this is why it would use the weight of 150,000 supporters to press for the option that is likely to be even less effective than the total removal of the constraint on the ICO, against the wishes of the DCMS, however one is inclined to wonder.

My lastest swamping calls are to do with government grants for energy, boilers, solar panels etc. All different companies ringing, sometimes up to 5 a day. If I go out, my ansaphone is full of either those or PPI claims. I do night shifts, I NEED my sleep during the day but I can’t get it for the incessant calls. Sometimes I have to take my landline phone off the hook (I really don’t want to as I have an elderly relative) just to get sleep. I can’t ban ‘unknown number’ calls because I receive these with my work and that would mean I can’t do my job effectively.

I can’t believe how much worse it has got. TPS is a useless toothless waste of space. The Government Grant website says this “If you are being bothered by cold callers, try to ascertain their company name for future reference and ask them to cease calling. They are then legally obliged to do so.
If, after you ask the company to stop, you continue receiving calls from them, or in the case that it is not possible to contact them to ask them to stop, you can complain directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which is the government body responsible for enforcing the regulations. Contact details for the ICO are below.”

I’ve never read anything more useless. If I ask for their details, they put the phone down. If I tell them they shouldn’t be ringing me, it often ends up with them putting the phone down on me, or just being rude. No way will they ever give me their details so I can complain.

Something needs to be done before I lose my marbles.

Which phone company are you with and how do you complain about nuisance and harrassment calls to them? Maybe you can get the phone company to give you the numbers of these persistent callers.

Can you upload to Youtube a copy of those answerphone messages these callers leave?

Take part in the government consultation that’s going on right now, linked above, and write to your MP as well.

Good advice, thank you. Not sure how to get the ansaphone messages onto youtube admittedly! I have very occasionally got the name of a company and they have promised to delete me from their lists. But most of the time, the minute I mention I am on TPS they either put the phone down as I am speaking or insist they aren’t selling me anything (they are the ones to do with the Government Grant boiler thing) but why keep ringing me especially as it’s for gas boilers and not oil!
I am with BT, I have tried complaining but no use whatsoever after being passed round the houses.

I’m not sure about audio to video conversion, but first, have you got a handheld or stand microphone designed for computers, and any audio recording software? If you have, you can at least record these messages on to your computer and convert them to mp3 format, then upload them to a free space website. Or for Youtube, you’d then have to find some audio to video conversion software and make an mpg, mp4 or avi video out of it, and upload it to Youtube on a new account.

If you’re okay with spending a bit of time on this, you can also try phoning various places to see what advice they give. Citizens Advice Bureau, your local Trading Standards office, Action Fraud, etc

@HH: “my ansaphone is full of ….”

What sort of messages do they leave? I’ve used an answering machine for sometime now to intercept unrecognised incoming calls and I’ve never had a single cold-caller leave a message.

I look out for a few folk in my local community and I’m always spouting this mantra:
“Legit callers will leave a message – scam callers will NEVER leave a message”.

If the scammers are starting to leave messages ….. I’m gonna be in trouble !

They are leaving recorded messages. It took me ages to go through them the other day when I had been away…. one after the other.

I am not sounding defeatist but for someone like me, that would take ages as it’s very techy! I don’t have recording software or a mic, so would probably prefer to take action by ringing organisations… I have tried this approach though and it’s very wearing and frustrating…. everyone just fobs me off with the same old same old. Thank you anyway Wev.

It’s a shame as you are probably the only person here who has a copy of these messages. If you put them on the internet, MPs in the government consultation could listen to them to get an idea of what they’re like, and why they’re so inconvenient and distressing.

Would you like to try something else? If they’re refusing to stop phoning you and refusing to give you their contact and company details, you should take this to your local police force as harrassment and ask them to trace the calls for you, and take a copy of the answerphone messages.

How would you feel about taking legal action as well? You might be able to get your phone company to give you the phone numbers of these callers, if you get a solicitor and try to start legal action.

@HHt: “They are leaving recorded messages …..”.

What sort of messages? Do they suggest you call them back or what?

Well actually lots of us around Warsash in Hampshire are getting these calls and I had 3 recorded yesterday. They begin “Dear Customer, you have not yet claimed etc etc etc Press 2 to speak to an advisor. ” Well I haven’t pressed 2 in case it puts you through to a premium rate line. It is usually number hidden but I have three times had same message with a number showing 02084240954 , 01756749572 and 01388817773. I have reported these numbers. It was just annoying but after weeks of calls 2 or 3 times a day it is well past that!!!!

Wev…. when I had an ansaphone on my telephone, I had to delete the messages routinely, otherwise there would have been no room for legitimate messages from friends and family. I now use the 1571 BT ansaphone service. (I can’t ignore them, I have to listen to them, otherwise I get the ringtone telline me I have a message and I don’t know whether it is from family or from Government grant boiler sellers!).
As much as I would like to go further with legal action, I am a busy person and there is only so much effort I can put in. I have however gone exdirectory and I am logging the calls and that’s a start!

HH raises an other interesting example of how our proposal for a more effective approach could be applied to the common cases of nuisance calls.

The companies referred to are either principals or agents of those regulated by the “Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body”. If, as should be the case, the regulations covered the manner by which these services could be promoted, or leads obtained, by telephone, then those who failed to comply would be hazarding their right to trade.

One would however expect that reasonable measures would be taken by the regulator to ensure compliance in all cases. Because this is passed off to the ICO, which cannot be expected to know anything much about this particular sector, one ends up with the silly advice offered, rather than serious concern about maintaining proper standards of conduct.

Even if the ICO were able to pursue a case, then it would only be able to impose a penalty that caused no substantial financial damage to the company – there is no proposal to change this rule.

One interesting well known example is a company in this field which is one of a group of related companies featured in two recent BBC3 series. The company incurred a penalty for breaching the PECR however I understand that it has not been paid, because the particular company was wound up whilst the penalty was being appealed. The particular company which incurred the penalty cannot now be pursued, as it obviously has no money with which to pay. The call centre which made the calls is still operating and it may well be that another company promoting the green deal is using the same call centre, possibly under the same ownership. (Please forgive me if my understanding of the detail of this case is a little foggy – I am awaiting a definitive update on the status of all of the recent ICO cases so as to inform a considered response to the consultation.)

“The call centre which made the calls is still operating and it may well be that another company promoting the green deal is using the same call centre, possibly under the same ownership” Well that does sound like standard practice to avoid any penalties imposed. It’s time that penalties included banning directors/owners from holding/owning a similar position anywhere ever again. And it’s also time that regulators who licence these companies stop new companies springing up with almost the same name but almost everything else the same as a company that been wound up especially when the that company was being punished.

Mark McLaren, it’s been over a year since I last mentioned market research calls and other related problems. Can you please kindly give an answer to whether Which will include these in its campaign?

Nuisance call companies like First Assist use several phone numbers and pretend to be different companies like for car insurance and banks when calling.








The nuisance calls bill you were talking about last year wouldn’t have worked because people are tricked into thinking they’re receiving a call from a company they’re already a customer of.

Chaining. Market research calls and paper questionaires ask for a lot of personal information that’s useful to scammers. Market research companies can be genuine, but they’ll still sell personal info to anyone who asks for it and pays. And of course, some sales companies call pretending to be market researchers, and delay their sales call by a few days. The market research they do is only to see if the person they’re calling is suitable to be put on a suckers list for cold calls.

You didn’t want to include Market research calls in the nuisance calls campaign, and you didn’t think it was a problem for anyone. Are you still sure now?

False CLID. ostridge has talked about nuisance call centers displaying false CLID here


Nuisance call companies present a false CLID to make people think they’re being called from an international number.

Does anyone actually WANT to receive “market research calls”? I certainly don’t, and regard them as intrusion, whether they are “legitimate” or not.

Years ago, you could trust anyone carrying out Market Research and I had no problem taking part. But the world has changed. It is full of scammers, fraudsters, suggers, fruggers etc and I no longer trust any of them. I would not know a genuine market researcher from a fake one so the only answer is to give personal information to none of them.

It is time Market Research found a non-intrusive way of carrying out their business. Make themselves very available for the public to come to them, instead of the other way round.

Don’t you get that people are thoroughly fed up with being pestered? By supporting genuine market research, you are also supporting nuisance callers. There is no difference these days.

Alfa… you say… It is full of scammers, fraudsters, suggers, fruggers etc and I no longer trust any of them.

You missed out ‘buggers’ 🙂

In all seriousness, if I wanted to complete market research I would. I do sometimes online but I object strongly being rung in my HOME and asked to do it. The default option should be No with an option for someone to say Yes if they actually want to.

LOL !!!!!!!!!!
Shame it is not funny to so many people though who just want all of it to stop.

Well all Mark’s post has done is confirm to me why I stopped paying to be a member of Which.

Genuine market research companies are being tainted by all the bogus calls I keep getting, surely its about time they realise this and looked at better ways of engaging with the public.

And is it really 18 months. Why does it take so long to achieve so little.

I thank Mark for providing information that I don’t feel has been clear until now.

I have no intention in providing information for market research if I receive an unsolicited call. If someone would like my views they can send me an email or write to me and if it is a topic on which I feel I could make any contribution I am happy to discuss this by phone provided that I can make the call.

I accept that many of the calls we receive are breaking the law, which is a very good reason for action being taken in cooperation with BT and other service providers. BT should be helping and not profiting from our misery by selling call blocking equipment.

If I recall correctly, Which? is a charity that is entirely funded by its members. Judging by what I have read on this and other Conversations, it seems that nuisance calls are one subject in where we are virtually all speaking with one voice.

I will not be happy until Which? launches a campaign to stop all unsolicited calls. I accept that Which? has applied a lot of pressure and the number of nuisance calls has dropped significantly in the past two years, but hardly a day goes by without me being pestered repeatedly.

We need Which? to represent our views.

Esther, Dead right market research calls are as much a problem as marketing calls. There is no concern on my part that sometimes marketing calls pretend to be surveys, both are a total pain, and both get totally uncensored abuse from me in response to that intrusion. This abuse can easily be avoided however by simply leaving me alone.

“Some of these changes included potentially lowering the threshold for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to take action against cold calling firms so that calls only have to cause annoyance rather than ‘substantial distress’.”

“The law currently requires the ICO to prove a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by their conduct. The Government wants to reduce this to causing ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’.”

These statements are utter tosh. How on earth does one differentiate between substantial distress and annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety? The second 3 very soon lead to the first option. Fines achieve very little and will have no impact on foreign call centres.

When will the government do something really positive and ban these calls completely? It is my human right to not be bombarded by these uninvited intruders in my own home.

I find it despicable that BT make money out of people’s misery by selling them phones and charging them for caller display. If these phones stop nuisance callers, why aren’t the phone companies stopping these calls reaching their destinations?

Hi Alfa, I’ve made a tweak to the copy as it wasn’t quite accurate. It now reads:

“The law currently requires the ICO to prove the conduct of a company caused consumers ‘substantial damage and distress’. The Government either wants to reduce this to causing ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’ or by removing the test altogether.”

Patrick, can you please add something to the end of Mark McLaren’s article about the things I’ve said above? I’ve been waiting over a year for someone at Which to say whether they’ll be added to the nuisance calls campaign.

The silent calls can be the most disturbing for older people but my most annoying are the computer scams that say your computer is running slow. We have registered with the TPS but it seems to have no effect. We have recently been getting pre-recorded messages in the middle of a Saturday evening about government insulation schemes . Probably have between ten and fifteen calls a week usually in the day with a cluster around tea time.


Paul Pritchard says:
1 November 2014

I’m registered with the TPS, British Gas know that I do not want its nuisance calls but they keep making them. If the telephone companies were forced to stop calls originating from these rogue companies the calls would stop.

Buying one of the new telephones from BT rewards them for allowing my ‘phone line to be used by rogue companies such as British Gas, I am a BT customer.

Robert says:
1 November 2014

Sometimes I sleep during the day. Cold calls cause me to routinely switch off my phones before going to bed. I do not allow cold callers to wake me from sleep.

My relatives know that they need not worry when my phones are switched off.

My government is unable to discourage cold callers and I am unable to switch on my phone when I am in bed.

Much of the discussion about nuisance calls focuses on calls to land lines. However, I get far more on my mobile, which because I tend to be out doing something (like driving), move from being a nuisance to being potentially dangerous.

I am registered with the TPS,which may explain why I get relatively few land line nuisance calls – but there needs to be a similar system for mobiles. Given the sophistication of smart phones, it should be easy for mobile networks to make baring numbers following a call a simple process.

The best way to stop the calls is to make the callers business noncommercial. If as both individuals and through regulation, we block calls, never buy anything from a cold caller, generally disrupt their business, drive up their costs, drive down their profits – then, over time they calls will dry up.

Last – controversial thought. Many many calls are to do with PPI miss selling. Why not fine the banks and use the money to fund initiatives to stop calls.

Just turn your phone off when you are driving. It’s not just nuisance calls that could put you and other road users in danger. 🙁

I agree about not buying from anyone who calls. I never have and never will. If I do speak to a cold caller I congratulate them for adding their company’s name to my blacklist of companies I will not be using in future.

You can register your mobile phone numbers with TPS as well as land lines

I get absolutely NONE on my mobile. I have been registered with TPS for years with my landline and I am inundated

tom gray says:
1 November 2014

I definitely support lowering the threshold from ‘distress’ to ‘annoyance’. The extent of trouble these calls cause you depends very much on your circumstances – if you are living alone and there’s nobody else to answer; if you have health problems or you know that family members or friends have such problems; if you are expecting an important call; if you are making or eating a meal; if the call is early in the morning or late at night – the list goes on. If, as I experienced this week, you get the same call concerning PPI several times in the one day, then there’s no saying what action you might take if you ever discovered who was responsible for these calls and they were within reach.

Izzy says:
1 November 2014

I don’t answer my landline anymore and never give it to anyone who I want to call me because 99% (not an exaggeration) of the calls I receive are nuisance calls. It’s seems totally unfair that I am paying for a service that I can no longer use.