/ Money, Technology

Ed Vaizey: what the Government's doing about cold calls

Stop button on nuisance calls phone

The Nuisance Calls Task Force today set out recommendations to tackle unwanted calls and texts. Here’s Communications Minister Ed Vaizey on how the Government will make it easier to take on cold calls.

Nuisance calls. The clue is in the name. But for a lot of people they’re more than a nuisance. For some, particularly the elderly and people living alone, the calls – especially when there’s no one on the end of the line – can be unsettling, frightening, or worse.

So a few weeks ago, the DCMS published a short and sharp consultation process around the idea that we should lower or preferably remove the legal threshold before firms doing it could be hit with fines of up to £500,000. How? By lowering or removing the legal threshold that requires there to be ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ caused to the person taking the call before anything can be done about it.

Taking on nuisance calls and texts

To help get things moving on measures to tackle nuisance calls and the problem of consent sometimes being unwittingly given to future callers, I asked Which? to set up and steer a task force looking at ‘consent’ and ‘lead generation’ in the direct marketing industry. And that’s what they did, bringing together regulators, people from the industry and – most importantly – consumers, to help control and reduce these unwanted calls and texts.

In the meantime, though, progress has been made. In July this year we made it easier for Ofcom to share information with the ICO in respect of companies breaking the regulations, which will help in ICO’s efforts to take more action. Also, we will be making it a requirement for marketing callers to reveal their ‘Caller Line Identification’ – or telephone number, to put it simply – when they call, so that the householder can see the number of the caller displayed on their handset. These are but two helpful changes.

More bluntly, we are also looking at ways of blocking calls at network level, and so preventing them from ever reaching the consumer. Some solutions depend on finding technological answers, while for others it is no more than giving the victims of the ‘nuisance’ better tools to report it, and the regulators stronger powers to impose penalties that will genuinely hurt which, I’m pleased to report, is just what we have done. These things are a good start, and are starting to make a difference.

Nuisance Calls Task Force recommendations

Tonight I’ll be attending a Which?-hosted reception to mark the launch of the Nuisance Calls Task Force report, which makes 15 recommendations. These include making it easier for you to revoke your consent to be contacted, and making senior executives more responsible for the actions of their company. The report provides clear action for business and regulators to act on, and we will carefully consider the recommendations for Government.

The launch of the Task Force’s report will also give people with a direct stake in the business a chance to set out their plans to help make things better. I think this is going to be a productive occasion because, on matters like this, there really is a consensus among reasonable and principled people that something needs to be done about unsolicited calls.

There’s some evidence that the scale of the problem is reducing, and responsible well-established businesses know that nuisance calling is very bad for their hard-won reputations. But some fly-by-night outfits simply don’t care what potential customers think of them. It’s up to the rest of us to stop them carrying on, and that’s what we’re going to do.

This is a guest post by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy. All opinions expressed here are Ed’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


In my experience most unwanted calls appear to originate from India telling me there’s something seriously wrong with my computer ter software. I’m not sure that Mr Vaisey’s solutions attack this particular menace. I get 3 or 4 calls every week.

Joel Kos says:
16 December 2014

In the last week, I have had several calls from an unsuppressed number in Connecticut USA – I always answer if I’m in, no point in not answering and I can take the p*** with some justification to the caller. Mostly this call is silent and hangs up, whether it’s me answering or the call defaulting to the answerphone. The one time someone did ‘communicate’, it was a high-pitched male voice ‘singing’ in an incomprehensible language. Not necessarily cold-calling, just a child with a wrong number stored on speed dial? And the calls haven’t stopped.
Rang the BT Nuisance Call Line – absolutely useless – can’t block an international call, the lad told me that TPS is wonderful (been registered for years, but TPS only works if the caller checks with TPS first whether they are allowed to call), buy Caller ID (more money for BT – as if they need it), buy a special cordless phone (ditto), and otherwise thank you fro calling. At least it’s an 0800 number so I’m not charged any extra for it.
‘Which?’ has mentioned 1477 dial-back to block subsequent calls, but no-one at the Nuisance Call Line recognised this code and told me it was for releasing my own suppressed number, more b*ll***. I did try 1477 and it IS valid but it doesn’t work – I had a recorded message saying the system was not applicable so please hang up.
Words and asterisks fail me.

I have just registered the purchase of a new microwave for guarantee. At the bottom of the form is says you will be considered to have agreed to marketing calls by phone, text, etc…..UNLESS you tick the boxes below. Why are they allowed to do this? I did see it as the Unless was highlighted, but it would have been easy to miss. Why are they not required to assume we do not want calls UNLESS we say so by ticking their boxes. Of course, hardly anyone would.

Just received a cold call from Jamie @ British Gas on 08000728270 at 17:08 this evening.

I’ve not been with BG for at least 20 years, maybe longer. I’m registered with TPS, so what went wrong?

So Mr Vaizey, is TPS useless? These big companies are flouting the ‘guidelines’. They should be fine BILLIONS and not slapped on the wrist.

Well said, terfar.

See above for my saga with British Gas.

BT is just as bad, ignoring customer wishes.

Alan W says:
29 December 2014

Please be aware a debt collection company knowas Tellows and or Vanquish bank. They have called my 96 yr old mother over 15 times since mid December from various regional officers.
As Mr Vaizey admits
“…they’re more than a nuisance. For some, particularly the elderly and people living alone…”
So why are more prosecutions and larger fines implemented now and not simply another eletion promise ?

Well said. I hope that you have reported every call.

My elderly mum has been troubled by repeated calls from another company. Needless to say, I now report every one.

Well, how about this news. Legislation that required the regulator (ICO) to prove “substantial damage or substantial distress” is to be dropped. Those nasty rats at Tetrus Telecoms won their appeal against a £300,000 fine because the ICO couldn’t prove damage or distress. (They had sent hundreds of thousands of texts about PPI and accident claims.) That’s now about to be changed in law.

More good news: at long last the regulator is looking at making CLID mandatory. Something I’ve been fighting for since it was introduced in 1994. Luddites can now pull their heads out of the sand.

It’s really good news Terfar. Obviously there’s more work to be done, but good steps from the Government after pressure from everyone who supported our campaign. Here’s our response from Richard Lloyd:

“We welcome the Government making good on its promise to change the law so it’s easier to prosecute nuisance callers. These calls are an everyday menace blighting the lives of millions so we want the regulator to send a clear message by using their new powers to full effect without delay.

“It’s also good news that the Government has listened to our call and is looking into how senior executives can be held to account if their company makes nuisance calls.”

In my view the next step should be to have an outright ban on unsolicited calls made by companies. Why should we be forced to opt out?

wavechange, that would be nice but how exactly do you impose a ban? That means preventing something happening – like banning theft. You could not stop me, if I were a company, from ringing you up and making a sales pitch. But, hopefully, what you should be able to do is report me for doing so and get me fined. That should be a significant disincentive to me.

Have a look back at the Conversations about nuisance calls, Malcolm. There are many who would support legislation to make cold calling illegal.

Why should anyone in business have the right to call a home or mobile number to try to sell their products?

For the past three months I have had about one nuisance call a week, a huge improvement in the ten a day I was receiving some days just a year or two ago. Others are not so lucky, so I support the campaign as much as ever.

wavechange, I think you misunderstand me. I totally agree with the points you make. I simply point out that you cannot physically stop someone committing an offence, only penalise them if they do it. I suppose with a phone you could somehow prevent unwanted calls by barring all but acceptable numbers, but that would seem impractical.

I receive occasional calls about my “accident”. I sometimes hang up, and other times start to tell them about the limbs lost, serious operations, incontinence, infections post surgery – it depends if I’m on liiesure time. Sooner or later they hang up.

At present we have to register with TPS if we don’t want to receive nuisance calls. Often companies use excuses such as ‘We don’t use TPS’ or ‘We must have made a mistake and will remove you from the list’.

What I want is for anyone who wants marketing calls to opt-in, and there is plenty of support for this approach. For those with internet access we could select a range of companies we want to hear from by updating boxes on a website. For example, when the house or car insurance is due, we could invite marketing calls to discuss the latest offers. Then, when the insurance has been chosen, we could cancel calls on that topic.

Now that I am retired I look out for discounted prices on specialist holidays offered by a fairly small number of companies. Being able to book 2-6 weeks in advance allows me to save hundreds of pounds, and it suits the companies, especially if they have had a cancellation. I would prefer to receive these offers by email but since none of the companies involved have got their act together, it’s one area where I would be happy to receive calls about special offers.

With websites, radio and TV advertising, newspapers and magazines, street advertising and so on, I telephone marketing has probably had its day anyway.

Just had 4th call in two days from 08000445265. Usually they ring off when answermachine starts but picked up yesterday and caller just put phone down. TPS registered but still receive more nuisance calls than wanted ones. Please can we have an organisation which will chase up these unwanted organisations

ive just typed the number whos is giving me the pain in the butt calls and theres been people complained on heer and other sites about the same number from Aug 2014, thats a joke surely this number should have been blocked months ago.
The Goverment are making cuts heer and there to us making life a struggle,(its a no brainer realy) why dont they hit these big call sales with wopper fines which would help us and them towards the deficit they cant seem to get rid of.
They should push the law through if so many complaints are made against there company its a instant fine with no appeal against the company and also another fine to the manager of there also as they should put a stop to it.

Get rid of the bedroom tax a use the nuisance/cold/telemarketing fine tax

clair hill says:
19 November 2015

Oh my, 4 calls yesterday, 2 today so far from 08000728270, this is weird cos it is one of my duel sims on my phone and the one they are calling is my business no. which is not active yet so I have not used or given out this no.