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What more can be done to stamp out nuisance calls in Scotland?

Last week we heard of plans to fine the bosses behind nuisance call firms. These plans are a hugely positive step towards stamping out nuisance calls, but the fight isn’t over yet. And particularly so in Scotland. Keith Brown MSP joins us to tell us more…

There’s one month to go until National Consumer Week. So I want to highlight the rise of nuisance calls and their harmful impact. For many, they’re simply annoying. For others, however, whose circumstances may make them more vulnerable, the outcome can be much worse. These calls can be a source of anxiety, distress, or even financial hardship.

I was encouraged to see last week that the UK government plans to hold directors accountable when companies make nuisance calls. This is a welcome step forward, but I know there is still work to be done, and I want to make sure that the Scottish government plays its part.

Action on nuisance calls

Which? Research has found that nuisance calling is a bigger problem for people in Scotland than the rest of the UK. For example, in one month, 91% of Scottish respondents received a nuisance call on their landline, compared with 71% for the rest of the UK. We don’t yet know the reasons for this.

The UK government are responsible for the regulation of nuisance calls and texts. But, going forward, I will now use the Scottish government’s new consumer powers to find ways to reduce their impact.

In June, I held the Scottish government’s ‘Nuisance Calls Summit’, which brought together regulators, industry and consumer groups. The Summit highlighted some key areas where work is needed.

As a result of that summit, I have established a short-life Nuisance Calls Commission that will meet for the first time during National Consumer Week.

I will challenge the Commission to develop and put into place solutions that will make a long-term difference. This includes:

  • empowering consumers to protect themselves;
  • supporting businesses that want to do the right thing;
  • finding effective ways to tackle repeat offenders;
  • and making it easier for those affected by nuisance calls to take action.

Searching for a solution

We will not find solutions overnight. Campaigns such as Which?’s ‘Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts’ are giving people a voice. They may provide a template for future efforts, but I know that real progress will be made only when we all work together.

I hope that through the Commission we can begin to end the blight of nuisance calls, and ensure that businesses that do the right thing are the ones to gain the attention.

This is a guest contribution by Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs & Fair Work. All views expressed here are the Scottish Government’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.


There is one very simple answer to nuisance calling – MAKE ALL COLD CALLING ILLEGAL !!!

Then set up a government department to put an end to them and prosecute offenders, or stop foreign calls reaching victims.

How could this work?

Victim picks up the phone and a scammer is on the other end.
Victim dials ‘nnnn’ and keeps scammer talking.
Meanwhile the gov dept at ‘nnnn’ listens in and traces the call.
If the caller is in the UK prosecute them.
If the call is from abroad, stop all calls from that number. Any foreign calls entering the UK with fake UK number, stop them getting anywhere.

The powers that be have been pussyfooting around nuisance callers for far too long. Chipping away at the edges only gives scammers time to find another way to get around the rules.

Let’s really call time on nuisance callers once and for all.

None of the various tweaks to the regulations made in the last decade or more have done anything to lessen or halt this nuisance.

Individual sector regulators have the power to ban usage of the telephone for marketing purposes in their sector. Until this is done, the number of nuisance calls will continue to increase.

I would go further and make all unsolicited calls illegal, including market research. Call blocking technology is supposed to be effective, so why not provide this as part of the service rather than have everyone install their own call blocker.

Perhaps Scotland can succeed where the UK has failed.

How do you deal with calls from people who legitimately phone you from an unknown number? I have asked before whether “central” call blocking technology was available but seem to recall it was not straightforward. Duncan perhaps could remind us of the realistic possibilities.

We can often learn how do solve our own problems from what other countries do. What do we know? I rarely get nuisance calls, I’m glad to say.

The legitimate callers could be dealt with in a similar way to the way that individual call blockers handle these calls, making use of the telephone keypad to activate the service and select options. I have a lot of respect for Duncan’s practical experience but I don’t think he worked as a software designer.

Nowadays I rarely get nuisance calls but others do. When I moved home I temporarily had an active phone line using the number of the previous occupants and I immediately started to receive nuisance calls, some asking for them by name. Thankfully, when my phone number was transferred, peace and quiet was restored. Many do still receive nuisance calls and I think we should do our best for them.

Seeing if there is a practical way for the exchange to weed out nuisance calls is something we have been asking of Which? – is it technically possible and practically achievable. I’ve seen no reply. I think it is fair, when topics are raised, to attempt to do some research to see what is possible rather than just campaign. We can all moan about something, but in my view making reasoned proposals, with a fairly sound basis, is when real progress can made.

If it was possible to make Freedom of Information requests of companies, that would be make life easier.

There are many things that we can do locally or on a server. For example it is no longer necessary to install a word processor to produce a document and of course you don’t need an answering machine for callers to leave messages and to retrieve them. One of the challenges is that the standard phone keypad is limited to numbers 0-9 and characters * and #.

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