/ Technology

Nuisance calls: big-name brands can be to blame

Toy telephone

A year ago the ICO’s Simon Entwisle wrote about the top five myths of nuisance calls and texts. In this post he adds a contender for number six: that a small minority of rogue companies are behind the calls and texts.

It is certainly true that organisations with little regard for the law do exist, and we spend a chunk of our time looking to target them, but there are just as many – if not more – messages and calls coming from big name, respected organisations.

That’s borne out in the quarterly enforcement update we’ve published at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The update lists the action we’ve taken this year, and features some well-known brands.

Perhaps the most eye-catching will be the mobile phone network EE (Everything Everywhere). We have concerns about their compliance with the law around both sales calls and marketing text messages, and we’ve already been in touch with them to be clear that enforcement action is a possibility. Our concerns are prompted by consumer concerns, and as we work with them over the coming months, we’ll be monitoring what consumers are telling us about them.

Making companies change

With the right changes, it can be a positive journey; one that BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting) has already completed. They were identified as prompting a large number of complaints before Christmas, but we’ve since worked with them to improve processes and we now feel enforcement action is unlikely to be required.

That improving of processes is crucial. The majority of organisations do not want to make nuisance calls and texts – after all, annoyed consumers don’t tend to sign up to a new product or service. But through poor processes, they’re either getting their call lists wrong – for instance calling customers who’ve left several years before – or they’re not being clear about how they’ll use a customer’s details, so someone signing up to their service doesn’t realise the terms and conditions mean they’ll receive marketing calls.

Being contacted by the ICO is usually enough of a jolt to these businesses to get them to sort out their processes, and the complaints quickly tail off. And where we don’t see the improvements we expect, we have the power to look at enforcement action: we’ve issued three enforcement notices already this year (and one preliminary notice), while the fine we issued in April took our total fines in this area to over £1m. We’ve also prosecuted three lead generation and marketing companies for non-notification offences, criminal breaches under the Data Protection Act.

New nuisance call threats

Our work, alongside that of the other regulators and organisations working hard to combat nuisance calls and texts, has prompted a significant reduction in the number of concerns being reported to us over the last year. But while the trend is positive, there’s no time for complacency, with a slight rise from January to March. While we can put some of this down to the same seasonal rise we saw last year as people return from the Christmas and New Year break, it shows there’s still plenty more work to be done.

Finally, it’s worth noting the statistics suggest that the nature of the calls and texts being made is changing. We have seen a significant reduction in the number of concerns about messages relating to Payment Protection Insurance (PPI), with a growth in those around green energy initiatives and so-called ‘scrappage schemes’. The latter two are now responsible for 42% of all the concerns raised, and will be a focus of our work moving forward.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Simon Entwisle, ICO Director of Operations, and was originally published on the ICO’s blog. All opinions expressed here are Simon’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


If you get a lot of nuisance calls, here’s a tip:

Using an answering machine (provider voicemail and some simpler machines may not work) and set your machine to ‘instant answer’ – ie, the machine answers the call without a delay. Record a message to say that callers should identify themselves and you will return the call immediately. Use this message while you’re in; use the usual ‘we can’t answer just now, but…’ message while you’re out. NEVER have a message saying ‘we’re out, so…’. It’s just asking for a burglar to come around!

I let all calls go to answer machine if any genuine caller needs to contact me they will leave a message. Shouldent have to do it but its the only way to get any peace. Ive told family if they need me let it go to ans machin leave a message and i will ring back straight away. My parents are elderly and could call at any time somthing needs to be done about these time wasting junk callers fast!!!

PhilAtkinson2001 says:
8 December 2014

In the case of dealing with cold callers my parents screen all calls, although this is problematic when they are expecting a call. When I am home I take the call & politely ask for the callers details. If they don’t immediately hang up, which most callers do then I immediately follow up with the CEO of the calling company; I can be very persistent. I need to understand why we have been called, as it is illegal for a British company to call me without my permission. I then follow through with all subsequent companies until I get to the source of the ‘leak’ . Finally, I report all companies to the ICO & TPS.

In the case if the last company that called, I felt that their response was not adequate so I have written to the CEO of the company on who’s behalf they were calling., The Times Newspapers. Ultimately, I hold this company to fault for any of the failings of any of the companies on whose behalf they are calling. In a best case scenario, these companies should lose their contract & in a worst case scenario it will have been Brough to the attention of the CEO & I should at the very least obtain a response. If nothing else, doing the above makes me feel better about the incident & I hope that if I can cause a little bit of pain to the calling companies, it would have been worthwhile.

In the last case the company has admitted breaking the law but I want more than a simple apology; the companies that break the law need to be punished. I am seeking legal advice but I will probably be taking these companies to court as TPS & ICO are absolutely useless.

I agree that the Directors of the companies that act illegally should be brought to justice as well as the company facing a significant fine. Finally, if they need a license with which to operate, thought should be given for revoking that. This is the only way companies such as BSKYB and EE will take notice; a small fine is definitely not going to do anything. Directors get well remunerated because of the risk that they take & it is about time that we hold those Directors accountable.

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