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?.