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Mike Crockart MP: support my Bill to stop nuisance calls

Phone line cut

Edinburgh West MP Mike Crockart has published a Private Member’s Bill to tighten the regulation of nuisance calls and texts. In this guest post Mike Crockart explains more about his Bill and how you can help.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of nuisance calls and texts.

Whether they are selling solar panels; trying to get me to claim compensation for my non-existent payment protection policies (PPI); encouraging me to claim for injuries I’ve never suffered; asking me to buy financial services or to take out pay-day loans.

The products may vary, but my response is the same. I’ve had enough.

Scale of the problem

In July 2012, the communications regulator Ofcom recorded 10,000 complaints. That’s a huge increase from the 3,000 recorded complaints just six months earlier. PPI and accident claims companies were responsible for more than half of all unwanted sales calls and are frequently blamed for the rise in nuisance calls.

Various studies from Which? and Ofcom suggest the problem could be even worse, with some estimating that the level of nuisance calls and texts may even be as high as one billion per year.

Many people complain about nuisance calls despite being registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). With nineteen million phone numbers registered with the TPS – around three-quarters of all landlines in the UK – something clearly isn’t working.

My Private Members’ Bill

So when I was drawn in 11th place in the Private Members Ballot to bring a Bill of my own to Parliament, it was an easy decision what to do. I introduced The Communication (Unsolicited Telephone Calls and Texts) Bill into Parliament to end, or at least lessen, this nuisance.

The Bill includes proposals to standardise the language used when asking for consent to use your phone number. It requires companies to prove they have that consent rather than the regulator proving that they don’t and it puts an expiry date on the use of that data to prevent your number being sold on forever if you forget to tick (or untick) a box!

It will also reduce the burden of proof for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to only have to prove that ‘nuisance’ has been caused rather than the present ‘distress’. This measure is more important than ever after the decision of an appeals judge last week to overturn a fine issued by the ICO to a company sending spam text messages on an industrial scale.

What’s the solution?

I have worked closely with Which? on the detail, as it was important to me that consumers are kept at the heart of my Bill. 91,000 people have pledged their support for Which?’s Calling Time campaign so far and I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

While I am aware that my Bill will not fix everything, I am in no doubt that we need to take action immediately. What that action may look like however, is a matter for debate.

So, I want to know: Do we need a ‘one stop shop’ for people to report complaints? Are call blocking devices the solution, or should the direct marketing industry do more to stop the calls? What should the role of the network providers be in providing a solution?

The Government has agreed that action is needed, just not now, or not exactly what I’m proposing. I believe we’ve waited long enough. We should call time on nuisance calls and for that, I need your help. Does your MP know how much it bothers you? Tell them now. And tell them the solution is available next Friday. Make it clear you want them to support action. It could be a while before they get the chance again.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Mike Crockart, MP for Edinburgh West.

Comments
Member

This bill is progress and welcome news, but many nuisance calls originate from outside the UK. Not only would any legislation be ineffective against such calls, but I recently discovered that BT prevents the caller’s number from being displayed if it is a non-UK number. I have tested this not only with calls from abroad but also with a non-UK number calling from within the UK (e.g. a non-UK mobile phone roaming in the UK). Although non-BT networks (e.g. UK mobile networks) display a non-UK caller’s number, BT (including any company using BT’s infrastructure) hides the number from the called party. This unreasonable concealment of caller ID data should be likewise outlawed, as it makes it more difficult for consumers to identify nuisance callers before answering a call.

Member

If the calls are made on behalf of companies in the UK, these companies need to be held responsible for nuisance calls.

Member
Angie Doughty says:
27 October 2013

This is something that is close to my heart.

For some infuriating reason, my parents aged 79 and 84 are getting approx 2 nuisance calls a day. This is a worry for me because I know that my mum will always answer the phone in case it is from family or friends and she loves to keep in touch, especially since she is in the house most of the time. I worry that she might fall trying to get to the phone as she is unsteady on her feet.

Mum has resorted to asking that we ring once and then put the phone down and ring her again so she knows the call is from a friend/family. Why should she have to resort to this!!! My dad has resorted to not answering the phone at all and then he rings 1471 to find out if the call was from family/friend. Why should he have to resort to this in his own home – he is nearly blind and is vulnerable!!

They are aged 79 and 84 – at their age the telephone is a vital means of communication (which should be a source of comfort and security and pleasure) for them and yet it is causing them such distress in their own home. I have checked and yes, they are already registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) but these call centres are blatantly ignoring the fact that they should not be pestered with nuisance calls.

Member
David Sanger says:
29 November 2013

I have virtually eliminated nuisance calls using ‘caller display’ by not picking up calls that appear on the telephone screen as “Number withheld” and “International”. After a few months all such calls have virtually ceased.

Furthermore, I purchased a couple of months ago a new more up to date BT DECT phone, plus extensions, for my mother which diverts all such calls to the answer machine and I have noticed that such nuisance calls have already been reduced considerably.

Incidentally, I had previously registered for TPS both for myself and my mother.

I have two concerns :-

(1) BT appears to be about to charge £1.75 per month for ‘caller display’ in a hidden price rise over and above their line rental. I have registered for it to continue free for a further 12 months, both for myself and my mother after which, I assume, the charge will be applied. I believe that all phone providers should offer what I consider to be this essential service free as part of their service offering. I think I heard that there was a private member’s Bill in Parliament to this effect. Is this correct? If so I hope it will become law.

(2) Caller display does not show overseas numbers simply “International”. If you have friends and family overseas you cannot adopt my blocking tactic. Surely, BT should be able to show, at the very least, the country of origin of non-UK calls (e.g. “India”, “Australia”, “France”, “USA” etc) and you can then decide which are ‘safe’ to pick up. Is there any technical reason why BT cannot do this? If there is not, I believe Parliament or OFCOM should require BT to provide this data as part of the ‘caller display’ service.

Member

I think we can all agree that nuisance calls are a problem and I appreciate your efforts to tackle the problem, Mike.

My biggest concern is to get market research calls regarded as nuisance calls. Which? does not wish to take any action about market research calls as long as they are genuine rather than a a ploy to conceal marketing calls. I sat down to post this message but was interrupted by a market research call on behalf of my bank.

I would be happy to participate in market research, particularly on certain issues, provided that I can choose a time convenient to me. I would be quite happy to look at a website and volunteer to be contacted, or make a call myself, or arrange a time for a discussion by email.

Member

I have just had another market research call, on behalf of Marks & Spencer. That is two calls in 90 minutes.

Member

Are you on the TPS list? I assume you are. When I get unsolicited calls I demand details of the company doing the work – and I report them.

Member

I am registered with TPS, but TPS does not cover market research. Here is information from their website:

“Telephone Preference Service (TPS) aims to reduce live direct marketing calls and is unable to stop calls from organisations who are conducting research. Genuine research calls are not deemed as direct marketing as they generally relate to information gathering or seeking of opinions whereas the purpose of a direct marketing call would be to sell or market a product or service.”

If I received repeated calls on behalf of a company, I would contact that company.