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New nuisance calls report rings in the changes

A phone bursting through the background

The All Party Parliamentary Group’s inquiry on nuisance calls today published its recommendations. In this guest post, the group’s co-chair Alun Cairns explains what they think should be done to tackle cold calls.

I’ve been campaigning for some time to reduce and eliminate nuisance calls and text messages. People are fed up with receiving calls and texts trying to sell gas or electricity; promoting claims for the miss-selling of payment protection insurance; to see whether you have had an accident; or asking you to buy a financial service.

Before introducing new laws in Parliament in this area, I needed to gather clear evidence from interested parties.

Therefore, earlier this month I co-chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nuisance Calls inquiry. We heard evidence from BT, Talk Talk as well as Ofcom, Which? and the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) among many others.

Taking on nuisance calls

Under current legislation the definition of a nuisance call is unclear. The type of call will also determine where a complaint should be made – to Ofcom or to the Information Commissioner.

You can register with the TPS to prevent live sales and marketing calls, but Ofcom deals with silent and abandoned calls.

In order to make a compliant, you will need to know who has called you and be able to pass on their telephone number. This is often impossible as most companies withhold this information.

Receiving a withheld number could be compared to answering the door to someone who is wearing a balaclava. We simply wouldn’t answer, so why do we allow it on the telephone? Consumers should be able to know who is calling them, choose whether to answer the telephone or not and complain when they receive nuisance calls.

The complaint system needs to be easy and straight forward and to one organisation – possibly in an automated way.

An easy way to report calls

If you receive an unwanted text message, it is easily reportable by forwarding it to 7726 (which spells SPAM on the telephone keypad). A similar service is needed for nuisance calls on a fixed line.

All companies making outbound marketing and sales calls should be required to provide their Caller ID, free of charge and register it centrally, perhaps with Ofcom. Companies should also be able to provide proof of the individual’s consent, allowing them to call them, at the time of the call.

Anyone who receives a nuisance call should then be able to call back, on a non-premium rate number, to find out who called them and be given an opportunity to opt out of receiving any further calls from that company.

These are just some of the main recommendations that the APPG has included in our final report (PDF), published today. I am pleased that the industry, regulators and the Government are all keen to engage positively with the issue. I do not believe that any of these things are particularly difficult to achieve, or too much to ask to enable people to stop receiving nuisance calls.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Alun Cairns MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nuisance Calls inquiry. All opinions expressed here are Alun’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


Why aren’t market research calls nuisance calls?

Why can’t market research calls be opt in only?

And what can you do about nuisance postal mail like that at thinkjessica.com?

Here’s what our executive director Richard Lloyd has said on this announcement:

“Millions of us are being bombarded with nuisance calls and texts and people are totally sick and tired of it. We’re pleased to see MPs recognising that the current system is failing the public and that the Government must go further and faster to call time on this menace.

“We need to see the law strengthened so people have greater control over use of their personal data and to make it easier for regulators to take action against companies breaking the rules.”

And this comment is from Mike Crockart MP, who is the other co-chair of this APPG inquiry:

“I am delighted with the final report, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who took part in the inquiry. We received nearly 100 pieces of written evidence, as well as hearing oral evidence from 16 different companies and organisations. The APPG also worked closely with Which? on the report, as it was imperative that the interests of the consumer were kept at the heart of the inquiry.

“What became clear as the inquiry progressed was that we cannot wait a year or more for the Government to act. The public are under siege from nuisance calls and text messages and we need immediate action to protect consumers from scams, constant pestering and most especially undue influence on the vulnerable.

“The report makes 16 recommendations to both the Government and industry. All recommendations are easily achievable and if implemented will; improve compliance; make reporting easier and more effective; protect and empower consumers and improve the regulator’s capacity to take action.

“Many of the recommendations are already included in my Private Member’s Bill and my fellow Co-Chair, Alun Cairns MP’s 10 Minute Rule Bill. Between the two Bills and the report’s comprehensive recommendations, we have done the hard work and it is now up to the Government to take the necessary action.

“I hope the regulators; Government and industry rise to the challenge laid down by this report and make the necessary changes which are so desperately needed.”

Patrick, in another convo I asked about companies like First Assist using several names and telephone numbers


What can be done?

Millie says:
29 January 2016

Yes I’ve been getting nuisance calls from them after my RTA back in sept. Trying to talk me into claiming for a mild discomfort payment from the third party. I was very abrupt on the phone and every time I tried to say I’m not interested he would speak over me and not let me finish! I’ve blocked the number.

I have been plagued with calls from First Assist in the last few weeks, the calls come in under a mobile number & I have been unable to get any company details from them. Despite being asked not to call me they keep coming back. There are companies on the web with similar names – but not the same company that is doing the calling I think.

Alun Cairns MP and Mike Crockart MP, can you add this to your Bills? Companies and their subsidiaries should stick to the same name and number.

Receiving a withheld number could be compared to answering the door to someone who is wearing a balaclava. We simply wouldn’t answer, so why do we allow it on the telephone?” – This is a fantastic analogy. When caller ID was first introduced in the UK in 1994, no provision should ever have been made for the caller with withhold their number. Withholding numbers is misused much more often than it is used for genuine purposes.

I still don’t like the fact that they will be multiple people to complain to. Why not let me complain to my telephone provider and let them work out who to pass the info to.

The method of reporting should be as simple as dialling a number either during or immediately after a call, so your provider can see exactly which call is the nuisance one. As they should have access to the callers details. If I ask who’s calling, the caller can say anything and I have no idea if that’s true.

When I hang up that should drop the line, so the current tactic of scammers to keep the line open while someone dials out can be stopped too.

And as mentioned above market research calls should also be included.

Caller ID services from providers should be free to the end user. naughty BT.

And what’s with OFCOM warning companies that ignore the TPS, large fines for the first offence would help. How many get let off with the a warning if they’re caught speeding by a speed camera?

Figgerty says:
30 October 2013

Please read page 33 of the Final Report. Alan (the interrogator) Cairns goes to work on Warren Buckley of BT Customer Services on the charge of £21 per year to empower his customers to avoid taking nuisance calls. The best inquisition since Robin Day. Well done, Alan, Warren is now with Openreach!

It is around page 32/33, depends on the page magnification.

llandl says:
30 October 2013

Something must be done about market research calls

Market research calls must be made opt-in. Like other nuisance calls they are a serious problem to the ill and elderly, and a confounded nuisance to many others.

At present it is legal for market research companies to call numbers and market research calls are not controlled by the TPS.

I am happy to participate in telephone market research surveys on selected subjects but only if the company makes prior arrangement, for example by email.

Absolutely agree, I’m glad it’s not just me that despises these so called ‘market research’ calls. I tell them I’m registered with the TPS and they instantly reply that the TPS doesn’t apply to market research. I really don’t know how to answer that other than to ask them from whom they illegally purchased my telephone number & address, given that my number is not in the phone directory and I have opted out of the edited version of the electoral register.

My standard reply to anyone asking me such questions is “how much are you going to pay me per question?, As I get paid to answers questions like that online”. That soon shuts them up, although one overseaa caller did get very upset, “who do you think you are”, to which the reply was, “I’m the person that you rang that you want to get answers from, and you’re being paid to ask them, so why shouldn’t I get paid to answer them”

Excellent! I’ll be using that approach from now on with these alleged ‘market research’ calls. I say alleged because anyone can say they are a market research company over the end of a telephone line. These constitute nearly all of my recent nuisance calls, the sales ones usually being recorded messages.

I have emailed the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) many times about nuisance calls but nothing gets done as it has been going on every day for approximately 6-7 months. The one call I can’t fathom out is when I received a phone call on my mobile (which I seldom use) from who I thought was my brother (photo on the caller ID) but when I answered it; it was a pre-recorded message about someone selling home insurance. I just could not believe it; some company had used my brother’s phone number to call me; how can this be allowed to happen? I phoned my brother to find out if he had tried to call me, he said he did not and didn’t know how someone else had gotten his phone number.

The majority of unwanted calls that I receive are from international sources. With a few exceptions, these calls are on behalf of UK organisations but, owing to the international source of the calls, no protection is provided by being registered with the TPS. The danger of tightening up the regulations regarding UK sourced calls is that more organisations will opt for the international arrangement. In another conversation I suggested that the regulations should be applied to the organisations on whose behalf the calls are being made rather than to the source of the actual calls.

I think it has to be accepted that the TPS is a waste of time. We have been registered with them for years as have friends and family but it does not stop sales and marketing calls.

Gordon hunt says:
1 November 2013

My mother is 81 and ex directory and my son is studying in china so I have the situation where I have to answer nuisance calls as these come up as withheld and international, I would like to see another single number that I can dial to see the call instantly redirected, When enough people have used the service say 1000 then the company should be disconnected and pay a fine,
Another solution would be to make withheld company numbers a premium rate like £1 just for being picked up so it would cost nuisance companies a lot of money to pester us.

I did try that http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/35828 over a year ago, but its now closed. Not enough people signed it,

Mike Crockart MP didn’t like it either, He said it was too prescriptive, So what . 🙂

There’s loads of options it just needs someone to actually do something about it. As we get closer to the next election I’m hoping something like this might start getting closer to be resolved.

Troika says:
1 November 2013

Since installing a trueCall device in July not a single nuisance call has got through to disturb us. Following the Which? recommendation for the device has proved to be a worthwhile investment for peace of mind.

It should not be necessary to do this, but if enough people do, the call centres will need to rethink their strategy, or may even go out of business.

Troika says:
1 November 2013


The trueCall device has a password-like system so overseas and withheld numbers can be accepted quickly rather than be blocked.

That all sounds very good, but what happens when firms just ignore the rules/guidelines. If they keep using 00000000 as their phone number, there seems to be no way to stop the nuisance.

The simple answer is not to answer those that have an obviously wrong number, like a string of zoros. It’s also useful to quickly count the digits, as all UK numbers have 11 digits. Anything else is Junk! Just ignore the call.

Figgerty says:
2 November 2013

If the landline companies are able to identify ‘cloaked’ numbers why do they not refuse to carry or transmit the calls.

If someone comes to your door and knocks, distracting you from the bad guys round the back, they are seen as an accomplice, Why can’t phone companies be made accomplices for connecting the the call ?

Christian Crossman says:
3 November 2013

There are some scam phone calls which, if you respond to them, result in a hefty call charge which BT will then charge you for. What happens to this payment whom does it go to????.
If BT pass this on, somehow or other, to the scam caller are they not AIDING & ABBETTING, which is a criminal act.

Had a good call from one of these people yesterday. They offered to stop nuisance calls, only £2.45 per month.

What I cannot understand is why they think anyone would fall for something like that.

That’s easy to answer, too many people do fall for it.

And how do I know? I asked a Microsoft scammer why do you bother, its clearly a lie you’re peddling, his answer “You English are so gullible”

After several years I’ve managed to convince my elderly mother that we’re not living in the 50s any more and just because someone says something doesn’t mean it true, in fact assume it a lie, and you can’t go fair wrong. Luckily she’s never fallen for scams.

My daughter has a telephone charging scheme where it will try and source free, or at worst, cheap call rates. So, sometimes, when she telephones me, it will be her actual telephone number and at other times only INTERNATIONAL shows on my Caller Display. I now ask her to give three rings, stop and start again. I will then answer the call. I also have friends and relations in America and Australia. Instead of just saying INTERNATIONAL, why can’t the actual telephone number be shown for all calls? I’m a bit confused about WITHHELD. I had in mind this was linked to being EX-DIRECTORY. Personally, my telephone number is UNLISTED, but someone can get my number from Directory Enquiries – if they have enough information about me. I would like to see, for residential users only, an option to dial a code number, prior to the telephone number to be dialled, that would then keep your telephone number from being shown to the receiver.

If you’re with BT I believe you just need to dial 141 before the number you’re ringing, to prevent the receiver of the call from being able to see whose calling.

Terry Maidens says:
5 November 2013

We monitor all our calls on caller display, and do not answer any calls which we recognise as nuisance calls. These have usually been identified by previously answering an unrecognised number. The caller usually claims to be carrying out research. I now always reply that we do not participate in any marketing research and put the phone down. This does not stop the calls continuing, frequently daily or twice daily. Most seem to be from odd untraceable numbers. I understand that market research calls are not classified as nuisance calls. They should be!
Some callers are displayed as ‘ Private Caller’ or ‘Out of Area’. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ignore this type of call as they are also used by the NHS and other organisation that you cannot afford to ignore. It would be appreciated if they did not hide behind this anonymity.

About a fortnight ago, some idiot called Luke used my mobile number to ask for a loan. Since then I have been bombarded with texts offering me various quantities of cash. What is interesting about these texts is that each is from a different number and each is from a different firm. Someone has sat down and written a few hundred (maybe more) domain names to use and he/she/they has/have appropriated hundreds (thousands?) of phone numbers to use. This shows a deliberate intention to use the phone system for this purpose and a deliberate strategy to continue to harass and defeat attempts to stop this. All texts suggest that the recipient sends a reply to the number to stop further contact. I have no doubt that this would be a very costly mistake to make.
I have used the 7726 number to forward all these numbers as they arrive. I am thanked for doing so, but have no idea whether anything happens to my numbers afterwards. It would seem that there is an endless supply available in any case so reporting these numbers doesn’t do much good. They all start with 447, but vary after this.
I would have thought that this could be classed as a criminal act since there is deliberate intent to deceive and extract money under false pretence. God knows what the terms of any loan would be and what the consequences of completing any deal would lead to.

Patrick, how many market research calls does Which make every year?

George says:
22 November 2013

The Which campaign is being undermined and outmanoeuvred by the nuisance call industry. I have been registered with TPS for years which has not made the slightest difference regarding the incidence of nuisance calls, which continue to increase. The nuisance call culprits were already using underhand tactics to get round restrictions and avoid being reported to regulators – such as use of international, unavailable, withheld numbers and recorded messages – but since the development of the Which campaign there has been a noticeable decrease in the use of caller ID recognisable numbers and increase in the use of international, unavailable, withheld numbers and noticeable increase in recorded messages without identification within the caller’s recorded message of the identity of the company making the call, and also the use of “no number” calls on mobiles with recorded messages, so that the only way to find out who is making the nuisance call is by responding to the call and expressing interest; if a response is made to the call and a simple request made to provide the identification of the caller, the nuisance caller terminates the call. The numbers of complaints to the regulators must have dropped dramatically because of the techniques in use by the nuisance callers; it is a scandal. And there has also been an increase in unidentified calls of an international nature that when answered there is someone on the line that (after a pause for the line to connect) states in a foreign accent “hello, I am Rick (or a range of other UK sounding names) and I am calling from Britain”. As I have said previously, it is not rocket science for the UK Government, it would be simple enough to just copy the laws that have been in use in the USA for decades. I do not see the point of the expensively salaried Regulators in the UK – they have demonstrated themselves to be toothless and pointless.