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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.

Member

You’re right, I hadn’t spotted that. I almost never get market research calls anyway. I told the two that used to call, to stop doing so,and they did!

Member

This won’t happen. I don’t know why, but the ministers responsible seem to be in total denial about the problem. They won’t address nuisance texts either, and they won’t make mobile operators offer a bar on premium texts as a standard free option on contracts.

In the old days junk mail was defended because it was effectively subsidising the Royal Mail, but email spam, junk texts and unwanted calls don’t even provide any public benefit to offset the nuisance.

Actually the best thing the government could do is require phone companies to make incoming caller ID free of charge and standard on all lines. Some years back my wife bought a phone with call screening and number-based blocking, and a blackout period overnight for all but nominated numbers. Far and away the best communications product we’ve ever had! It’s a Panasonic DECT phone with four handsets and digital answering machine. Not the cheapest there is, but worth every penny.

Member

As others have mentioned, many of the nuisance calls are from sources identified as being international. Most of them, though, seem to be calling on behalf of UK based organisations. Perhaps there is a need for the regulations to be applied to the company in whose name the call is being made rather than to the source of the calls. I would also like to see all calls to be from an identified number rather than being shown as ‘withheld’ or ‘unavailable’.

Member

When I stay in France and in Ireland, the French telephone system relays the telephone number of calls from the UK to the handset and I always know who is calling. If France can do this then I believe NFH that BT has the capability or are they less technically advanced then French Telecoms. At the Parliamentary sub committee on Nuisance calls Warren Buckley of BT stated that they empowered their customers to deal with nuisance calls by providing their Privacy Servicee/Caller ID and he also spoke in glowing terms about their Nuisance Calls phone which people could purchase for around the same price as a normal phone. Some MP’s were very interested in this phone as they admitted they too received many unwanted calls. One MP, Ben Shepherd admitted he never answered his home landline but he was very concerned that any action against nuisance calls may prevent him calling his constituents. Others expressed a similar concern and they asked the witness (TPS or ICO) to clarify the position. I suppose with a referendum on Scotland and the European election coming up we should all be getting calls from the various factions. Do you Mr Crockett, cold call your constituents?

Now, getting back to BT and their caller display which enables us to know who is calling us. They have now decided to charge for this previously free service plus also for using the 1571 service. So much for empowering their customers. Cynics may say that it is not in their interest to help customers deal with nuisance calls as that may reduce their income.

Lastly, there should be a one stop shop for reporting unwanted calls, not the present situation where ‘silent’ calls are reported differently to calls where someone speaks. There should also be a requirement to show your correct number and the number cloaking that now happens should not be allowed. I presume the providers can refuse to carry or connect such calls.

Member

I missed out that the Irish Telecom system also relays the callers identity on calls from Britain so if th Irish and French Telecoms are able to do then why not British Telecom.

Also, 1571 is the Voicemail system used by many instead of an answerphone.

Member

Likewise UK mobile networks display a non-UK caller’s number. This alone proves that BT could do it if they wanted to. It looks to me like deliberate concealment of data, which is particularly shameful when BT charges for the service and UK mobile networks do not charge.

Member
Leverstock says:
25 October 2013

My Wife has advanced alzheimers,I myself have recovered from bowel cancer which in turn prompted a heart attack.Nethertheless I am my Wifes 24hr.carer.Although I have registered with TPS and a private company on the internet (obviously a con) I am pestered with nuisance calls when I am busy.For goodness sake get the Prime Minster on board.I find little time for myself but I am still an activist for the Conservative Party and if David Cameron wants to ignore us “little people” I will seriously consider voting for UKIP.

Member

I am concerned that many nuisance call centres are probably displaying false CLID and that there needs to b a register of tele marketers company name/number/dept./address against caller numbers in a database accessible by public for free paid for by a telemarketers licence for each CLID used.

I had a legitimate call from Southern Water Services Ltd which had an extra 0 in the CLID number, makeing their call centre appear to be from an international destination. NHS Tees (my doctors Surgery) had similar problem when it was found that VirginMedia added the extra 0 to the incoming CLID, but this was corrected later on complaint. Business users of VOIP services can insert any CLID display into their calls.

I know that BT have other methods of identifying caller other than CLID so that their billing can be charged correctly and likewise i’m sure Virgin etc.

We need legislation to ensure alignment of CLID presentation with caller company/address etc.

I have had live calls from a telemarketer where I pressed for the company name and number of the caller and the information was refused.

We cannot trust the CLID presented. We cannot trace the nuisance calls. The best I can do is block the 10 most frequent callers, and refuse to pick any 00 prefixed numbers.

I need the proposed bill to take the above into account.
Regards
Oz

Member
sue powell says:
22 April 2015

21st April. Had intended voting for you. Tonight however had phone call from Lib dem person checking if I had received postal voting form which I had. Person not at all interested in my views just wanted to know if I had received postal voting form, A cold call in my view and a complete switch off. So dismissive. Disgusted and a complete turn off for me. Sue Powell