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Victory! Government announces a Nuisance Calls Action Plan

Nuisance calls success

In a victory for our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls & Texts campaign and its 112,000 supporters, the Government today announced an Action Plan to tackle this menace.

The Government’s Action Plan is the first comprehensive and co-ordinated effort on nuisance calls, and includes the following new measures:

• Lowering the threshold for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to take action against cold calling firms – calls will only have to cause annoyance rather than ‘substantial distress’.
• New regulations to let Ofcom and the ICO share information on rogue companies.
• The Ministry of Justice will consult on whether PPI cold callers should face fines of up to 20% of their annual turnover.
• Which? to lead a task force reviewing how people consent to receive marketing calls.

The Government’s culture secretary Maria Miller declared that ‘nuisance calls must stop’:

‘People need to feel safe and secure in their homes. The rules are clear – people have the right to choose not to receive unsolicited marketing calls. We will work to ensure their choice is respected.’

Which? to head up task force

Our campaign found that people are often unaware that they’ve given permission to be contacted by a company for marketing purposes. This is why the Government has asked us at Which? to set up a task force to review how consumers give and withdraw their consent to be contacted.

I’m delighted to be chairing the task force, which will bring together regulators, consumer and industry experts to tackle the issue of consent head on.

We now look forward to regulators using their new powers to help stop this growing problem from pestering people like Caroline:

‘Every day I receive cold calls regarding PPI. I dive to my phone every time it rings in case it is my mother needing help.’

This victory came about thanks to your support for our campaign – congratulations and we hope the scourge of nuisance calls is on its way out.

Are you still bombarded by nuisance calls? Are you happy to see action being taken at last?

Comments
Member

When exactly does this action plan take effect?

And I’ve seen no info on how people without computers can report nuisance calls in the action plan.

And only 20% fine ? Statutory jail term for all directors is needed.in addition.

And I can’t see this affecting overseas calls either 🙁

Member

I agree that prison sentences would be a strong deterrent against this illegal practice. Fines are not enough because these businesses factor the fines into their operating costs.

Member
Ben the dog says:
30 March 2014

And how can they be reported when numbers are “witheld” or “not available” ? Surely telecoms suppliers also have to be actively involved or all this will be yet another fine sounding political initiative but ultimately fail.

Member

If the number is withheld or unavailable, then you can always pretend that you are interested in their product and then gather as much information as possible about the business and the person who has called you. Ask for as much information as you can, e.g. their web site address, and then tell them that you are about to go out and you would like to give them a call back at a more convenient time, in which case they’ll give their phone number.

Another big problem is that BT Openreach deliberately conceals the caller’s number even when it is not withheld whenever the caller is outside the UK. I have tested this many times. If I call from a non-UK number to my BT Openreach line (including all BT LLU operators), then the number doesn’t show up, but if I call to any UK mobile, the number does show up. BT needs to fix this urgently to combat this nuisance calls menace.

Member
tom gray says:
4 April 2014

The problem with overseas calls is that the call does not contain the tracing information that a UK call would have. The numbers are still traceable but it may be more difficult. Withheld calls can be traced by the provider, but BT seems to have changed its policy recently. Previously if you were having trouble from withheld calls they could put a trace on for a month and they would then contact the nuisance caller and tell them to desist. They have stopped this service without reason (perhaps because they make money from these calls?) I can say that the problem would be solved simply if they traced the number and let the person receiving the call know who it is. They claim the law does not allow them to do this. Meanwhile I pay them rental for a landline so that these twerps can cause me trouble. You really have to do your own detective work along the lines suggested by NFH and then take action on your own behalf along with reporting it to ICO or Ofcom

Member
Josquine says:
5 April 2014

NFH: All this takes time and effort and hassle. I just don’t want to be bothered in the first place.

Member
NickP says:
5 April 2014

> Ask for as much information as you can, e.g. their web site address, and then tell them that you are about to go out and you would like to give them a call back at a more convenient time, in which case they’ll give their phone number.

I’ve not gone to quite THAT extent, but it’s pretty clear that if they ever actually PROVIDE a name, then that name will NEVER show up in a phone book, or a web search, or in Companies House. I get the feeling that I would only be able to find who they REALLY are once one of their reps has made it through my front door, and I am NOT going to do that.

In addition to the suggestion above about BT displaying international numbers, a couple of simple legislative change might help:
1) All business lines to provide a correct caller ID as a condition of connecting to a UK network;
2) Only domestic phone lines to have the 141 (withhold caller ID) enabled.

N

Member
Nick says:
9 April 2014

There is no reason for commercial firms to have the facility to withhold the number they are calling from, so the facility should be withdrawn as so many of them abuse it.

There is an online “38 Degrees” petition to that effect. To find it and sign it search for “End Telephone Number Withholding”.

Member

“a task force reviewing how people consent to receive marketing calls” or in layman’s terms a delaying tactic kicking it into the long grass. Especially in light of this action plan task force coming out of a initiative set up in Jan 2013 according to the ICO press release

Surely all they need to do is publish the following action plan:

1) Wording for opting in MUST use the SAME wording. e.g.. Click to opt in to receiving …

2) that wording to only be on one screen ( for internet opt-ins) where you specify name and address/ email etc and not in the case of some companies here there and everywhere with the wording AND meaning changing everytime.

3) The default is always blank.

Just those steps should slow some of these people down.

I’d also like to see a restriction on companies passing on details. If someone wants my details then sure if they pay me enough to change my identify and go into hiding afterwards. Otherwise no, it shouldn’t be allowed. The direct marketing organisation has due to lack of its own initiative brought these draconian measures on themselves.

Member

On the subject of consent, there should be a time limit placed on it of at most 6 months but ideally 3 months; this would prevent the “old” consents still be used, as well as preventing “recycled” numbers being used. For example, in February this year, I was phoned by a company based on a March 2008 website consent form for an entirely different company; YES 6 years ago and it was not even my phone number in March 2008.

Furthermore, if your details are to be passed on, then the names of all the companies must be made available to you before you consent. No more use of the phrases “carefully selected companies” or “our partners”, and of course it would take the “data suppliers” out of the chain.

Member

Marketing calls must be OPT-IN. The Telephone Preference Service is run by the Direct Marketing Association on behalf of companies selling products and services, so it is hardly surprising that we are in a mess.

I have already seen a marked reduction in the number of nuisance calls I receive, for which I am very grateful. Thanks to Which? and other organisations and individuals that have fought against nuisance calls.

Member

Glad you’re seeing changes Wavechange. It was a joint win with our supporters, including you!

Member

Surely if companies what to share my details then let them provide links to those companies where I can specifically request it per partner company.

I know I won’t be clicking on them.

Sharing data should be illegal, I should have to sign up for each company. should I wish.

Member
Chris says:
1 April 2014

Having now had a chance to read through the action plan, there’s seems to be two important aspects missing.
Firstly the new legislation must also cover ‘survey’ calls. At present these are excluded from the TPS complaints process but are just as much a nuisance and equally disruptive.
I have documented evidence and recorded calls proving that although I specifically told a ‘survey’ caller to remove my details and not call me, they completed their form saying I would accept calls.
In this case the survey was carried out on behalf of a UK database organisation, but used an off-shore call centre to make the calls.
Secondly the legislation must include data information organisations. They need be subjected to an independent audit of their records. A key element being that for instances where a TPS registered number has supposedly ‘opted-in’ to receive calls, they have a signed document showing that such permission has been granted. Getting the details right at this stage will prevent any subsequent users of the ‘list’ making calls to TPS registered numbers.

Member

I’ve also recorded well over two hundred of these ‘survey’ calls. They almost always emanate from India and usually from an outfit calling themselves Choice UK. When I tell them they’ve called me before, they deny it and inform me that if I just answer their questions, I won’t be bothered again.

I did answer their questions once, but this has patently had no effect. I get their calls four or five times a week. I used to waste their time but this became so tedious that I now just tell them there’s someone at the door, put the phone down next to the radio, and carry on about my business.

I don’t see that legislation is going to be effective against these overseas calls unless you can punish UK companies for benefitting from data that is gathered this way.

Member

Hmmm . . . the words ‘too little too late’ come to mind. Faffing about with the channels then leaving it to our flabby regulators will result in very little.

As always, follow the money! Spam email was ‘shrunk’ substantially by actions of the honest ISPs who began to recognise that their real customers were not the spammers but the subscribers and then started offering filters.

Also, the simple practice of attacking the ultimate beneficiaries, those who commission the anti-social practices. This was also the tactic to drastically cut fly posting in the UK, go after the people who commission and make money from the practices.

The Data Commissioner should get a grip and stop the sale and resale of OUR information unless positive rather than default authority has been given. In this matter our own public authorities should be made to stop selling and to recall all misuse of our Electoral Roll information.

I’m told that the latest dodge is to harvest those who opted out of the free access version by claiming access for credit enquiries! Now the NHS would like to sell our data . . . It is interesting looking on such databases as 192.com to see how intimate details have been cross referenced and made available for sale. The whole lot should be stopped.

Half measures with telcos who make money from nuisance calls and flabby regulators will simply prolong the problem. The job should be done once, immediately and thoroughly.

Member

I am very pleased to see that a step in the right direction is to be taken at last and it is good that Which? has been given an important role in the process by leading an expert Task Force. A lot of concerned consumers who have been deeply troubled by the cold-calling nuisance have contributed their personal experiences of this shameful trade to previous Conversations on this topic. It would be good now if Which? recognised the value of their input and would invite one or more of them to participate in the task force so that the true extent of the anxiety and misery that is inflicted on vulnerable people – many of whom have spent good money in the expectation of gaining protection from this scandal but been bitterly betrayed – will be brought home to the regulators so that the questions of ‘consent’ and ‘no consent’ are treated definitively and conclusively as other contributors have outlined above.

Member

Thank you John for the kind words, and consider your suggestion shared with the team.

Member

How does this stuff get done in well-run European countries? Do people in France, Germany, Scandinavia etc get unsolicited calls from India etc, if not why can’t UK consumers have the same protection? Is this another feature of our botched 1980s privatisation of BT, deregulation of telecoms, etc? I can’t understand why “number-withheld” callers in either the UK or outside are allowed to pester UK citizens. Fines, prison sentences and prohibitions on the enforcement of payments on contracts initiated under these circumstances, sound to me like a start.

Member

I know people in Canada and America DO get these calls as many will also speak English.

Member
RGradeless says:
1 August 2014

I don’t suppose there are many French, German, Danish, Norwegian or Swedish speakers in India

Member

Well if we needed any more proof of just how many of these irritating calls we get, we are just back from a 2-week holiday, before which I had set our answering machine to cut in after only 4 rings, and forgot to inactivate it before going away: 42 “messages” of which only 2 were genuine ones from friends. Average of 3 a day. 5 today.

Member
James Bryant says:
5 April 2014

The ability to block caller ID was useful when the only possible ID was the calling number. Today it would be possible, and not very expensive, to have mandatory caller ID which identifies a calling phone with a unique account name or number which is not the number of the calling phone. Users should no longer be able to block such a caller ID, but would be able choose whether to allow or prevent their actual telephone number being sent with it.”Which?” should campaign for such a change to the system.

Member

I’m fed up with receiving calls inviting me to replace my heating boiler, under some sort of “scrappage” scheme. Allegations that British Gas have sent customer details to a marketing firm, who have been bombarding me with calls.But I already have the latest condensing boiler….!
The UK call no appears on my phone but when I ring it back I get “unobtainable”. I’ve reported what I know to the TPS & ICO.

Member

I’m still of the opinion that the best way to deal with nuisance calls would be to allow the person receiving the call to enter a simple code down the phone line either during or immediately after receiving the call. Put the onus onto the phone companies, they after all are milking the problem and making it worse. They also should have all the necessary details about who’s called me rather than me having nothing but a spoofed number and been told a bogus company name to use.

Member
Josquine says:
5 April 2014

Excellent idea. We have Action Fraud for phishing etc, can’t we do something like this for phone calls?

Member

I’ll start heaping praise and congratulations when these calls stop coming in. Unitl then, what ever has been done, has obviously not been effective….yet. I AM grateful for the efforts, and hard work that Which and the politicians are doing. The determination to cold call seems to be a stubborn crusade to continue this evil. No one can now possibly have any doubt as to the depth of feeling against this trade. As I’ve said before, there’s money to be made somewhere and that’s where the problem lies.

Member
George says:
8 April 2014

This is all very well, more talks and more promises of penalties I future. But the actual effects to date are very little – except that every call that we now receive (fourteen in the last week) is from Withheld or International numbers (mobiles show ‘no number’) because the culprits are finding ways round any restrictions, so that one would have to answer the call and make enquiries with the caller to be able to make a complaint to the agencies who are promising more action. Why not cut the talk and copy the US legislation – and get rid of the costly agencies that just give promises of more action in future while they continue to draw their six figure salaries.

Member

Well George that might well get taken up by Ofcom who will spend some months in deep reflection and conversations with their trusted colleagues (no, no, not the little folk, they don’t deal with individuals, I mean the people who really matter, the Telcos) before issuing a consultation. After ‘due process’ there will be a set of proposals to be implemented within a couple of years.

The penalties, of course, will be dire. Admonishment, severe admonishment and modest fines as we don’t want to affect the ability of our hardworking businesses in the highly competitive marketplace!

There, that should keep the plebs quiet!

Member
Roger Gradeless says:
22 April 2014

One area which the task force should investigate is UK-based companies who indulge in ‘indirect’ cold-calling by using overseas cold-calling centres to make the calls for them. These overseas companies go by such names as ‘Consumer Choice’, ‘UK Lifestyle’. They purport to be conducting surveys but the questions suggest they have been paid by UK companies to gather data.

My solution is that any UK company should be legally obliged to check any phone contact list they use against the TPS list if that list has been bought from an overseas source.

PS (completely off message) – why is a US spelling corrector being used and not a UK one? Try center and centre, and honor and honour.

Member

Under the current regulations the UK company can only phone a TPS number if you have given them permission. So unless the overseas company conducting the survey have told you which companies will call you, then I would suggest the UK company is breaking the rules by not checking the TPS List.

Of course enforcing the rules is an entirely matter; as the UK company will either say “it’s a computer error, or “you told the survey company that we can call”.

Member

Whatever is being done, clearly needs to happen sooner rather than later. So far today I’ve had 4 nuisance calls, 3 of which were silent and all 4 calls there was no return number or it was withheld.

Member
George says:
3 June 2014

Although we have relatives who live in several other countries, after years of continuing nuisance calls, we found that the only way to counter them was to not answer any call that was identified as international, unavailable, withheld or any other designation that did not provide an identifiable caller number. We also have a telephone that permits the barring of numbers from unwanted callers – but that facility only permits up to thirty numbers to be barred unfortunately, and that capacity has been fully utilised. The nuisance callers have continued to attempt to develop new ways of avoiding any controls; there must now be very few complaints made to Regulators as hardly any of them are now identified with a telephone number, using international, unavailable, and withheld identifications – for which our no-answering policy was the only way to address the nuisance. However, we have today had a nuisance call identified as ‘unavailable’ which has purposefully left a message on our answer machine that states that “it is Government policy that all houses in the UK must have solar panels, insulation and new boilers by 2016”. It can only be imagined the kind of distress that such messages can cause to vulnerable people; surely this must be some sort of crime of anti-social behaviour, that the appropriate authorities should be addressing. If only I knew where the directors live of this anonymous company, I could seek to persuade them to mend their ways. Surely one of the first things to be done to address these problems is to get rid of the useless Regulators on obscene salaries and employ someone willing to do something about it.

Member
Bennybongo says:
3 June 2014

Totally agree with all this…

Member

This might be of interest to people on this conversation:
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/64475
A petition calling for it to be compulsory for all organisations to display a valid caller-id.

Member

Since most nuisance calls emanate from overseas, this would be unenforceable and therefore a waste of time.

Member

Over the last couple of days I’ve had some calls which have come up on my mobile as ‘number witheld’ . . . . Yesterday afternoon I managed to answer before it stopped ringing and found that it was the Which Legal Service calling me back.

It would be interesting to know why it is considered necessary to cloak even a call from Which in such secrecy!

So many organisations seem to think it is acceptable to call with no way for the recipient to know who it was whether for good or ill and so that they can take the appropriate action – call back, wait for another call, make a complaint . . . etc.

Member
RGradeless says:
1 August 2014

From the comments here and elsewhere on the topic of nuisance calls I think there is an expectation that the Action Plan will remove all nuisance calls. This will require sensitive expectation management. Short of running a closed society (a la N Korea) the Action Plan can only hope to reduce the number of nuisance calls not eliminate them.

Member
Linda says:
2 December 2014

Why cant companies ie Virgin, allow the option to block withheld etc numbers. If I can block on my mobile why cant this apply to fixed lines?

Member

You can withhold your number on a BT landline. Just dial 141 before you dial the number.

Member
jonathan rose says:
5 December 2014

I would also add to some of the above good ideas, that for people who are in fear of there life, legislation should be added so they can withhold there number, one easy way, would be for an authority british home office to make a list available to police, and any one on list can get withheld number, while everyone in normal circumstances is not allowed to have number with held, also add to the list annoying STM messages, which are computer operated, they should be banned, as well.

Member
Mike says:
29 June 2015

I am coming late to this conversation, but would like to report the following problems:

(1) I too have been getting nuisance calls about boilers which imply that my house must be compulsorily inspected to see whether I must have a new boiler by a date in 2016.

(2) I have been using the Talktalk call blocking service and find that somehow I have blocked calls from a hospital about my treatment. The hospital could only reach me by alerting my local surgery. So I have now had to unblock everything.

(3) Hospital and doctors’ calls are always “withheld”, so you cannot distinguish them from nuisance calls. Hence we now find that we must answer all such calls just in case. Can’t this anomaly be sorted out?

Member
Barbara says:
30 July 2015

Mike, I too have had the same phone call re boilers needing changing in 2016. I have bought a call blocking phone BT! But have found that if I change my settings to DO NOT DISTURB and allow VIP’s (such as family friends doctor’s etc. the call will get through. But and this is a big but, if your hospital uses withheld numbers then it won’t get through. Hope this helps.