/ Technology

Update: Calling time on withheld numbers

Withheld number

The Government has announced a crackdown on withheld numbers, making it a legal requirement for companies to provide a valid number when they call you. How many calls from withheld numbers do you get?

‘Withheld Number’. ‘No Caller Id’. ‘Unknown Number’.

How often do you see and hear these words on your home phone, mobile or when you dial 1471? (If you’re going out with Adele you probably have at least a thousand of these…)

Frustrating isn’t it?

Without knowing who’s calling you it makes it difficult to report the call as unwanted to the regulators, or to us.

Win for our campaign

Which is why the announcement from the Government today is such a significant step forward for our Calling Time on Nuisance campaign. The Government has announced that it will be a legal requirement for marketing callers to provide a valid phone number that can be displayed when they call you.

We’ve been calling for mandatory Caller Line Identification (CLI) since we launched our campaign, and it formed one of the recommendations in the Nuisance Calls Action Plan, so it’s a victory for all our supporters that the Government is taking action on this issue.

Marketing companies that don’t display their number will face heavy fines from the regulator – over £1.14 million in fines were imposed on firms last year for nuisance calls and texts.

Why is CLI important?

Caller ID is pretty important because, without it, it’s hard to know who’s calling you and that then makes it harder to report nuisance calls to the regulators. I think I get at least three of these a week with corresponding voicemail’s telling me I can make a claim for my ‘recent road accident’. (The fact that I haven’t driven for five years makes this all the more baffling).

We know that mandatory CLI won’t put an end to nuisance calls, but it will certainly help. It will help you spot nuisance calls (you can see the rundown of our top ten most reported numbers here) and therefore, make it easier for you to report them and action to be taken.

We believe that responsible businesses should have nothing to fear from telling people who is calling. In fact, three in ten people say they’d be more likely to think of a company positively if the company committed to showing their number when calling.

The six-week consultation closes on 23 February 2016, after which the Government plans to bring the measure into force in spring this year. We’ll continue to update you on the progress of mandatory CLI and will keep pushing the Government, businesses and regulators to cut nuisance calls off at the source and make senior executives personally accountable if their company makes unwanted calls.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on mandatory CLI – how many calls from withheld numbers do you get?

Update 24 April 2016 – Date set for new rules

The Government has now set a date for when direct marketing companies will be forced to display their phone numbers when making unsolicited calls – 16 May.

Baroness Neville Rolfe, minister responsible for data protection, said:

‘The Government is committed to tackling this problem, which is why we are making it easier for consumers to report companies by forcing them to display their phone numbers.

‘We’re sending a clear message to rogue direct marketing companies. Nuisance calls are unacceptable and we will not hesitate to take action against the companies behind them.’

This change to legislation will not only make it easier for you to refuse to answer a call from a number you don’t recognise, reporting unwanted calls will be simpler too. This should lead to the regulators fining more nuisance calling companies.



I bought a Fritzbox 7490 it’s a VDSL/ADSL router it also replaces your DECT phone Base station, part of the advanced setup is it acts as a mini switchboard like companies use so you can have handsets as extensions make internal calls etc anyway there’s also a call handling section I use this to not only block anonymous calls but I also add any other numbers I don’t want to contact me.

Once added the phone doesn’t ring & they don’t even get the option of leaving a message the line just appears dead to them! It’s not cheap but it’s the best piece of internet/network/phone hardware ive ever bought cost £200 with no ongoing charges.

We’ve gone from dreading the phone ringing to not worrying about it at all

Posts seem to be taking a long time to appear here. Bob’s was 9 minutes ago and I still can’t see it.

I can see Bob’s post now. It was happening early yesterday evening as well. I got 2 emails, they were in the latest comments but not on the convo itself. I did search on a couple of words but they just weren’t there.

Thanks for letting me know Alfa. I have a suspicion about what might have been going on.

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JBrown says:
15 January 2016

I don’t get these nuisance calls but my sister, who passed away in August 2015, was PLAGUED by them for years including in her final months before she died of cancer. They woke her up when she was sleeping/resting and it was very difficult indeed. That really made me mad!
It seems to me that, whilst Which are pressing the Government to act to force these companies to display their telephone numbers, the public are usually (as far as I know) still CHARGED a fee from their SERVICE PROVIDERS to supply said telephone numbers; surely, this must also be stopped. Thank you

I doubt that this will be effective. If the company know that they will be reported for their nuisance call they are hardly likely to provide a CLI. It’s like making it a legal requirement for burglars to leave their fingerprints at the scene of their crime so the police can more easily trace them.

Can the use of spurious calling numbers be stopped? Many of the numbers showing up are not valid. And… many calls appear as “International, out of area”.

I’m getting calls on my mobile from 087…and 084…numbers that I GET CHARGED FOR! I can block the numbers after they have called, but it seems the callers just call from a different 084 or 087 number. Can’t seem to win.

Rob Musson says:
16 January 2016

I agree with comments from others, I am receiving most of my nuisance calls these days from so called spoofed numbers.

I have the ability to block up to 10 numbers and started to use this facility but the company has started to change their number meaning I had to delete some of the 10 to keep up with them.

Stopping withheld numbers will b a help in my opinion because the only valid witheld numbers I receive are from my doctor and the hospital so if it applies to these organisations as well it will mean I can accept these and ignore the others.


One major problem might be Skype-to-phone (or equivalent), where the call is made from a PC, laptop etc. It is somewhat like the computer-to-computer calls that are really useful for keeping in touch with relatives abroad, but (at a very low cost per minute) the last portion of the routing is through the telephone system – my wife frequently uses this to keep in touch with her mother, who lives abroad and does not use a computer.

I have posted before suggesting that ALL calls, without exception, should have caller ID. This need not necessarily be the caller’s own number as there are (sometimes) good reasons to withold this, but a unique ID for the line making the call. The “Official” response has been that this is not technically possible, but this is not true – it may be inconvenient for telephone service providers, but it is certainly possible, since they cannot bill the caller without knowing who is making the call. What is needed are rules obliging telephone companies to provide this information to the called party in the form of an unambiguous caller ID. At first this might only work within the UK (not so good but better than nothing) but other countries have the problem so international compilance should not be impossible to achieve. “Which?” should not accept the official “This can’t be done” but seek professional advice on how it might best be done and then demand that it actually be done.

I’m calling time on nuisance calls and texts because, for a long time now, they have been driving me nuts. Every day I get calls from phone numbers that are either ‘out of area’ – or the number doesn’t make sense or it looks like a UK number but it isn’t or it is a UK number and they obviously are not paying attention to the Ofcom rules about cold-calling. And I am registered with the T.P.S… If I can get called from friends in other countries and can see the number they call from then why can we not be allowed to see the number of the cold callers from other countries as it seems we have the technology and then we could report these numbers and get them banned. Or it could be that when you buy something online that there is something in the T’s & C’s that is buried so deeply – How many people actually read the T’s & C’s – they should be made to make it more prominent on the registration page. And, if, like me, people have vision problems, the thought of having to read all the T’s & C’s is very daunting. As I said these opt-ins or opt-outs should be much more visible and accessible to everyone – and comply with the Disability regulations from this country which have been made law – not just to those of us who have vision problems. Also, I strongly object to any company being allowed, by law, to sell on people’s information for monetary gain – so I think the government should be taken to task over this too. International compliance is what is needed.

Barry says:
18 January 2016

I’m quite relaxed about this these days. Don’t need a special phone, just one with caller display and an anwerphone. If you’re in when a call comes in from a name/number you don’t recognise (or number witheld), don’t answer. Nuisance callers virtually never bother to leave a message, whereas anyone who genuinely needs to talk to you – your doctor, say – nearly always will.

Harvey says:
19 January 2016

I have TalkTalk as telecom provider and they have a system which you opt into whereby “caller withheld numbers” are prevented from being received. However the system is not perfect and as I needed new phones, I bought the BT Call Guardian system (3 dect phones). In the last three months it has stopped every call where number is withheld, and only allows direct calls from the numbers I key into the system. Marvellous piece of kit. Recommend to anyone & two year guarantee from John Lewis

Sandy Allan says:
19 January 2016

Fully support the campaign but as many point out, existing laws don’t work and certainly will not stop the criminal element like the “we are your Windows software company … we have identified viruses on your computer” type calls. However, the selling of personal data should certainly be stopped. It should already be illegal via Data Protection legislation. However, since government organisations like the DVLA ignore Data Protection and sell our names, addresses and telephone numbers to fraudulent companies operating fake “Parking Charge Enforcement” scams, the likelihood of putting a stop to selling of personal data is remote.

Buy a BT 8500 call blocker phone, it works. Not a single unwanted call since Sept 15

Due to unwelcome cold calls at intrusive times i shelled out 50 quid for the bt8500 good reviews in which. It comes with bt call guardian installed. Since then not one cold call genuine callers not known to me can state who they are as the hospital did earlier and access was granted.
I hear you say i shouldnt have to pay for my privacy ,your choice.
Meanwhile i eat my dinner in peace, enjoy my evening in peace and am not woken at night.
To me money well spent.

I agree – I’ve had the BT8500 quad set for about a year, and it works just as you describe. For me, it’s great because it does just what I’d want a blocker to do – vet my callers for me. I get full control, yet people I want to hear from can still get in touch, and one button press adds them to my ‘allowed caller’ list. Together with the full address book (per system, not per phone) I can see right away if a caller’s familiar and send everyone else to autoanswer.

Experience says that the typical nuisance call telemarketer, like the typical car thief or the typical burglar, won’t persist if you make it harder for them – they move on to an easier mark. Automated calls at the worst leave a message which is deleted in 2 seconds; human nuisances hang up. But genuine callers can be responded to immediately if you wish, or later if you’re busy or out. Magic!

A friend has just installed a new phone line to add to his existing one. None of his contacts knows the number yet but he is being bombarded with calls from energy companies asking him to switch suppliers. There is only one explanation for this: BT, who installed the phone because they have the monopoly on doing so, have sold this new number to energy companies so they can use it for their own purposes. Can the Consumers Association do anything about this? I also have a new phone line but am frightened to attach a phone to it for this very reason!

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Your friend should add their new number to the TPS registry.

It could also be a number another customer got rid of because they were being inundated with nuisance calls. Numbers do get reused.

I’m still getting calls to a number we were given 14 years ago as an unlisted second number for our BT line (called a ‘call sign’ number). Its previous user died 17 years ago, but we still get spam calls to that person. So, how long do list circulate for?

Type your number into google and see how many websites it is listed on.

Our mobiles are listed with incorrect names and address on several websites.

Veronica Gibbard says:
21 January 2016

Not many of these cold callers give you a chance to say what you want to say, and their English is so poor you can hardly understand what they are saying half the time.
Even having an ex directory number they still seem to be able to find you and phone you, mostly at very inconvenient times of the day, or late evening, find it very annoying.

I too am infuriated by calls of this nature. I wonder whether it is possible for a private individual to withhold their number. The result of this is that when a call comes through I don’t know whether it is from an individual or a company. I would like to be assured that non-company callers are not permitted to withhold their numbers.


Private people CAN withhold their numbers with the 141 system. Dial 141 in front of the number you’re calling and you will show up on the screen as ‘number withheld or similar. Same when the other person dials 1471 to find out who called last – it’s withheld. This works for BT users, but might not for all providers.

In my opinion, it’s a good option for the timid or apprehensive, when calling businesses when you don’t want them to (illegally) harvest your number for cold calling later. I think that businesses should be obliged by law to provide a genuine number to ring back, even if it’s not the one you were called from – as in the case of doctors’ surgeries mentioned above.

John says:
23 January 2016

I agree 100% with Alfa. The numbers given are not valid and usually manipulate to make you think the call is local.