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Mike Crockart MP: we need a one-stop shop for nuisance calls

Landline phones hanging

In this guest post, Mike Crockart MP explains why he’s tired of nuisance phone calls, and why he thinks there needs to be a single point of contact for anyone who wants to see the back of them.

Quite frankly I’m fed up with nuisance calls to my landline and mobile, as well as unsolicited texts. We all know the kind… the text that starts ‘our records show’, or the recording telling us we’re entitled to thousands of pounds due to mis-sold PPI.

It’s an annoyance for me, but for many vulnerable and elderly people it’s also a menace. A menace that puts them at risk of fraud, just as much as if a crook or pushy salesman turned up at their door.

That’s why over the past five months I’ve been running a campaign to get the government to look again at nuisance calls, silent calls and spam texts.

What does the law say and who enforces it?

Ofcom has powers under the Communications Act 2003 to deal with the ‘persistent misuse’ of a communications network or service, which includes the generation of unsolicited and silent calls.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) enforces any breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which covers rules about unsolicited electronic marketing messages sent by telephone, fax, email or text. The ICO also enforces the Data Protection Act, but it doesn’t deal with silent calls as no marketing information has been shared.

Regulation 19 of the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations 2003 requires organisations making automated marketing telephone calls to have the prior consent of the person being called. This means that ‘live’ marketing calls cannot be made to anyone who has indicated an objection to receiving them, for example, by registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

What’s the reality?

People have said to me time and time again that in spite of registering with the TPS they are still plagued by cold calls. So these ‘safeguards’ are actually doing very little to protect us. Yes, Ofcom has fined nine companies for making silent calls, but if the companies persist it must be because, in spite of the fines, it’s worth their while.

I can’t help but feel that the maze of regulations doesn’t help. While there are different regulators and different government departments in charge, there will always be loopholes for these companies to abuse.

How many of you have been sure you haven’t given permission to be called, but still receive calls without knowing how the company got your information? If you’ve tried to make a complaint have you been successful, or do you feel it won’t result in any action?

I think we need a single, simple point of contact for any individual wishing to protect their privacy from unwanted calls, texts, faxes and emails. What I want to know is whether you think that would help. Would you be willing to register to ‘opt-out’ of calling lists if that could guarantee your privacy? Do you think that having a one-stop shop for such issues would make it easier for people to make complaints the companies that consistently pester you?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Mike Crockart, MP for Edinburgh West. All opinions expressed here are Mike’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.

samuel says:
18 February 2013

Regarding the comment by NHSpatient and the ‘fair telecoms campaign’, most of the calls I get (including the scam calls pretending to be Microsoft) are displayed as overseas calls.
I cannot see how an enforcement notice on an overseas call centre or individual could be made effective. I suspect that most of these calls arrive in the UK “via internet” – in other words they arrive here as IP telephony, or IP forwarded calls and so will have no RELIABLE CLI (Calling line Identification) attached.

One thing that would help to protect the public is if the CLI for international and IP forwarded calls differentiated between calls originating from ‘suspect’ areas and these originating on the public switched network (e.g. Europe). This would be something that BT or other operators would have to arrange. Just an indication of country would help.
It appears from the Guardian article that there is work going on to enhance CLI presentation to differentiate call sources. This is sorely needed – for example to distinguish calls from the NHS (e.g. doctors) from nuisance calls that have CLI presentation withheld.

In my opinion it would be a big improvement to display country of origin (when this is reliably indicated) and whether the call originates via IP or via the PSTN (Public switched telephone network – ie normal telephones as opposed to internet). Reliably identifying country of origin of international calls and source appears to require some changes to existing networks.
Once this CLI information is available, then it is feasible to intelligently screen calls. Boxes are available to screen calls now, but will not distinguish (for example) calls from my relatives in France from scam calls (e.g. from India etc) because the CLI presentation is the same for both at present (International Out of Area).
There is a cost associated with this better CLI presentation, but judging by the quantity of calls I receive, the scam calls are clearly making money.
I believe more effort is needed from BT and other network operators to address these scams.

Please understand that I am not opposed to measures that people may choose to use to filter their calls. Additional assistance can be provided by the telephone companies, however we may be asking too much if we expect them to able to clearly identify “Nuisance Calls” before we answer them.

Individual action is perfectly proper, however I am focussed on the action that needs to be taken by public bodies to protect us all from an illegal public nuisance. It is fair enough for telephone companies and others to develop and sell call screening products and services, but this should not be aided by weak action by regulators, nor used as a reason for such weakness.

The presentation CLI provided is but one of many ways of identifying the caller when the law is being broken. The call is often made by a company which is only an agent of the company in breach of UK law, so its origin and means of delivery is of no ultimate significance. There is also some significant international co-operation on these matters and plenty of opportunity for this to be increased.

To address the problem as a whole, we must also remember that many nuisance calls are made by companies that also make valid calls, and by those who provide proper CLI. I am pleased to hear that there are some who are spared this, however many are not.

Anthropomorphous says:
19 March 2013

I think that more legislation will only have a limited effect when many companies call from abroad, and many others ignore the existing laws. One measure that would be worthwhiile in all legislation (not just nuisance calls) is a clause that states NO fine can ever be less than the sum the offender stood to make from breaking the law. Anything less simply means that the offender will pay up and keep the profit.

Mike argues that an opt in system would kill the direct marketing industry. So what? Has there ever been any research to find out how much legitimate business these companies do, excluding that acheived by fleecing the vulnerable?

I think that a measure which may offer some worthwhile improvement is legislation to force the telephone companies to offer free access to a comprehensive call blocker service.

Finally, having recently switched from BT to Plusnet, the last unsolicited sales call I received was from BT wanting to lure me back! (I am registered with the TPS.)

Billy Quinn says:
19 March 2013

A bin wagon hit our car on our driveway in September 2010.
Noone was in the car and it was dealt with by the turn of the year.
Then the calls started. I take it that the Insurance company sold our details on.
That in itself should be against the law!!!
I have to answer my phone as I’m a Rep and customers call me from different phones all over the UK.
“It’s about your accident in September 2010” “Was anyone injured” ” You know you can claim”
At first it was a slight inconvience. Two and a half years later and after hundreds and I mean hundreds of calls we are sick to death of it.
Only two weeks ago I got three calls off different companies in four hours.
I’ve been regiestered with the TPS right through all of this and these companies aren’t bothered.
Enough is Enough!!!
The law must be change to stop this nightmare!

I would simply repeat what you have just posted, Billy Quinn … the exact same scenario, with my car being hit, their fault, no injuries, all sorted …. and then the calls and texts started.

I was waiting for an important call this morning, dashed to answer my mobile, only to find the same nonsense being spoken. I am sick of it, day in, day out.

Surely those whose job it is to work out an answer to this problem, and who are being paid to so do, must ACT.

I have well and truly had enough of them all to my landline and mobile. I pay for the service of my telephones only to have them sabotaged by a range of unwanted calls. It seems a very mixed up system that allows this to happen. I cant understand why we the consumer to tele services seem to have such little control despite TPS etc and all the advice given to say to these people to get rid of them. It doesn’t work. I’m plagued by them. I feel I need to rid myself of my telephones, it is so unfair.

If I want any of the telemarketing goods/services they offer I would find my own – I don’t need them to call me and offer it and infuriates me when they tell me I have been mis-sold PPI etc when I know I don’t and never had. Annoyance is there game because they know they are going to get sales based on it, more often than not to shut them up!

I have found two ways to minimize the grief of cold calls. Firtly, do make sure you have Caller Display. Secondly do not answer any number you do not recognise. If you use an answer phone and the call is genuine the caller will leave you a message. I use the BT 1571 service. This has been free up to now but may be charged for in future; the charge should not be high. I do also have my own answer phone as well but do not use it all the time. The BT service is invaluable in that messages are stored in their system. This means that one can pull one’s own phone out of the socket at critical times, such as when one is cooking, or has visitors, or goes to bed early etc. Any messages will be safely stored at BT and can be recovered when needed.

This procedure in no way diminishes my fury at cold calls and the pressing need to deal with them but it does help sometimes.

This morning, I have been in contact with a company, who phoned my elderly uncle (94) as a cold call and invited them to take out a contract to cover his boiler. He forgot that he already had cover and agreed to take out a contract with them, giving an ‘audio signature’ and bank details for direct debit. I’ve explained the situation to the company representative re my uncle’s vulnerability, but he was adamant that it was legally binding being 8 weeks in, even though he had not signed and returned the paperwork sent to him, indicating that he understood and complied with the terms and conditions. My uncle lives on his own with a friend’s and my support, but he’s vulnerable to this sort of thing happening when we’re not there.

I feel that it’s very disturbing that companies can get away with this sort of selling and would like to see it addressed.

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