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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?.

Comments
Member

I have been registered with TPS for years and I am fed-up with overseas calls and calls from UK companies that don’t play by the rules. However, my greatest concern is now the number of ‘market research’ calls I receive. I don’t want these calls.

It is time that all unsolicited calls were made illegal. If anyone would like to opt-in to receiving marketing or market research calls, that’s fine.

Member
Mike Crockart says:
17 January 2013

The problem with opt-in is that it would kill the direct marketing industry stone dead. What I want is a register that actually means something so an opt-out is acted upon effectively and adhered to and anyone breaching that is then open to penalties.

Member

Mike

I am absolutely sick of unsolicited calls and if you take the time to read the all the relevant correspondence on Which? Conversation you will see that I am not the only one. I have never bought a single product or service as a result of an unsolicited call. Furthermore, I make a point of not using companies that annoy me in this or other ways.

There may be people who are very grateful for information about selected products or services and might want to opt-in to receiving marketing calls. At the present time, I am not one of them.

Member

Mike

I have to say that I personally find your elitist approach on this point to be wholly unacceptable.

You are defending the failure to enforce the existing “opt-in” provisions, which exist in the laws that you choose not to mention, on the basis that enforcement of the law would have an unwelcome effect. You are obviously obsessed with the idea that citizens must exercise consumer choice in order to enjoy the protection of those who enforce the law, and we note that this fits in well with the Which? mission.

It would be good to know if you are arguing that the existing “opt in” or universal protections be removed, or simply that an effective superior level of protection be offered to a select group of citizens. In the former case, it would be probably be necessary to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership to enable us to opt out from the provisions of existing consumer protection directives.

Those who note the effect that the present level of TPS registration has had on the telemarketing industry may disagree with your suggestion that an “opt out” approach ensures its good health. Ask those businesses who were the victims of BT’s business protection scheme known as “BT Privacy at Home” if their attempts to compete with BT, as originally encouraged by Oftel, were not severely damaged. Their retaliation, by abusing the principles of the TPS and thereby further undermining it, provides a fair indication that they were hurt.

Obviously, one must never disregard the effect that nuisance calls has on individual victims, but it is the practices of the direct marketing industry, and others, which have to be addressed. I cannot agree that the law, in definition or in implementation, should be applied selectively, according to the identity of the victim.

Member

Agree!! Until there’s a body with teeth, it’s obvious that these callers are making money somewhere along the line. They need to be persuaded that this pracitce in unprofitable, then it will stop.

Member
Vynor Hill says:
17 January 2013

More haste…. sorry!

Member
Joe Deans says:
17 January 2013

Just voicing my support for any action taking against this problem. Although I also think that legislation may simply lead to the same “companies” resorting to spam e-mails on a more regular basis.

Member

Might be true Joe but at least that’s less obtrusive, especially to older and vulnerable people, and is easier to deal with by blocking adresses?