/ 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?.

Comments

Today Ofcom fined two companies £20k for making abandoned and silent calls.

One company is estimated to have made over 30k abandoned calls over the 3 month period at the start of the year. The other just over 12.5k in a month and a bit at the end of last year.

The regulator stated “£20k fines show that companies face consequences for operating outside the law.”

Is it just me that thinks ofcom hasn’t got a scooby.

The problem is that under existing rules, they are not allowed to award punitive fines. I’m sure that if I started ringing people and hung up when they answered, the police would quickly be around to bang me up! It’s totally inadequate. On first offence, it should be £10 a call fine. That would ensure they get their act together before making the calls, not many months later.

And I bet under any new rules, the situation won’t be much better either. Lets hope I’m wrong for once.

And why can’t the regulator go back to whoever/whatever came up with the laughable rules and ask for them to be changed. That’s how I would expect a regulator run by me to behave.

Ofcom didn’t issue these penalties for making abandoned and silent calls.

The penalties are for making more of these types of call than Ofcom allows.

You’ll notice that these companies have not been told to stop making silent or abandoned calls.

Ofcom allows companies to make a certain amount of abandoned and silent calls per day.

This appears to be in defiance of the instruction from parliament to eradicate them.

The 30,000 abandoned calls was actually over just 50 days; according to OFCOM the company made approx. 281,000 calls during this period, so around 11% were silent/abandoned. I think the legal figure is 3%.

What would be interesting to know is, of those 281,000 calls how many were to TPS numbers?

Parliament wants silent and abandoned calls eradicated. Ofcom hasn’t implemented that and allows 3% of them to fail in that way.

A call centre that’s just over the limit is therefore forced into making more calls in an attempt to reduce the percentage of failed calls.

Grumpy says:
13 December 2014

Having resorted to investing in new phones with caller display to try to deal with what seemed a never- ending line of marketing calls I almost missed a call from British Gas which was to arrange a service visit because it was computer generated. That would have been annoying!!!

John R says:
13 December 2014

Having just received an umpteenth telephone cold call, although TPS registered, I managed to find out that the list supplied to the cold caller was supposed to have been checked for TPS registrations by TPL Media (a lead generation co.). It CLEARLY had not been!!!! This is the company which needs fining!
I have reported this company via email to the TPS Ombudsman and hope a LARGE fine results.

John R, The TPS doesn’t have any power to fine anybody, only the ICO can do that and until the threshold is changed that’s is not going to happen. If you report TPL Media directly to the ICO, then there might be a chance they may investigate the matter. If you got some spare time send a Subject Access Request to TPL Media and ask where they got your number from and see what excuse they come up with.
I did see on TPL Media website the following “The company is headquartered in the UK, with offices in Watford, Wolverhampton and in Bangalore and New Delhi, India”. I wonder where the phone calls are made from!

In a comment I posted when the Task Force was set up I said that people’s expectations of a complete solution would be raised. The only way all nuisance calls could be stopped would be to set up an agency similar in size and cost to GCHQ to monitor and intercept all phone messages.. The total expenditure for the security and Intelligence agencies was approximately £2 billion in the financial year 2011-12.

No law is going to stop nuisance calls completely. Murder is a crime but it still takes place!

Why blame TPS? Responsible companies will consult the ‘do-not-call’ register; irresponsible ones will not. Overseas callers are unlikely to consult the register. Perhaps the TPS could be transformed into a GCHQ-like organisation?

“Why blame TPS? ” well for one it seems like no one working there has noticed they’re not fit for purpose, and two if they have they’ve not done anything about it.

R Gradeless – I have suggested that those companies that make nuisance calls should have their phone service suspended for increasing periods of time until they comply with the law, whether they are using landlines or mobiles.

If you don’t have a phone service you cannot make nuisance calls.

I cannot see any other solution that would be effective.

@R Gradeless

I think you miss the point. The TPS is a toothless beast with an active connection to the industry. Whilst the laws are inadequate and punishments far from punitive, they will never been anything but a waste of money.

It is true that we can never eliminate nuisance calls, but by changing the law and using existing technology it can be minimised.

The law needs to make any silent call illegal (not a 3% target), CLI needs to be mandatory and permission to call must be absolute (written proof of permission must be presented within 10 working days of a challenge and ‘on line check boxes’ permissions must be time limited to say 90 days). Telcos should block all calls without a valid CLI.

TPS can then be scraped and Ofcom can handle complaints and make the necessary fines to companies or Telcos who fail to implement the law.

Users can then know who is calling and make their own decision whether to answer or reject a call.

David says:
13 December 2014

Internet companies require a telephone number as a mandatory entry without any provision for indicating that it may be a ex-directory number or no contact to be made by this means. However, this information is then available for companies directly or indirectly, through information being sold or passed on, and consequently this results in too many cold calls being received. The caller, when advised, then will usually say “Okay, but whilst I have you on line”.

I used to pay for call blocking until I realised my bank, my GP, my local authority, hospital departments etc could not then call me because they all do not give out their numbers; some have a slight reason to do this i.e. medical services which might get overwhelmed, but banks and businesses have no reason and are just hiding. Have you noticed how many companies do not even disclose e-addresses for the same reason? Communication is loaded one-way against the private individual not only on the phone lines! Broaden the scope and make it illegal to not give your number and e-address if you are a business.

Funnily enough I was cold called this week by a company offering to end cold calls for me. I asked if they were trying to sell me something to which they replied no. I then said that they were part of the problem because I was registered with the TPS and they shouldn’t be calling me. They said that they were allowed to as they were offering me a service to end cold calling. I asked if it was a free service to which they replied no. I said that they’d said they weren’t trying to sell me something but they were. They said that they weren’t trying to sell me something but there was “an administration charge, which was different”. Oh, I replied, that’s OK then is it? So how do you stop me getting cold calls then as the people supposed to be doing this had failed miserably so far, despite drawing a salary to do this? We would send them a legal request to remove your name and number from their files and if they didn’t do it they they would be fined. I then asked, “where did you get my name and number from as I’m ex directory”? “From the files they hold on you” was the reply, “anyone can look at them for a fee”. I then hung up.

We`ve only just moved into a new area,a new telephone number was given us and a new area code,nobody and i mean nobody has yet received our new number from us yet we`ve had over twenty calls from various sources in four weeks,so who has given out our number BY obviously they then try to sell you services to stop nuisance calls of which they are the suppliers of.The whole thing stinks.

@alan, it might be a new number for you, but chances are its a re-cycled number.

I am disabled so have to get from A to B to answer call only to find far too often it is someone I don’t wish to hear from. I don’t recognize numbers of callers and they don’t leave a message even though it may be a genuine call to arrange to service my boiler or something. Why don’t they write to me, or at least leave a message.
Some callers use ”withheld’ but this could be Doctors surgery or a friend with a withheld number. I use different tunes to identify friends but this does not work on Withheld calls.
I get irritated by people who open conversation with Hello Z….. or Mrs B and how are you today ?without ever announcing who they are. Also some calls don’t ask if you might be interested in their product or whatever but just launch into, we are in your area tomorrow and would like to call on you. They even use my mobile and I only use this for friends and family and emergency calls, so don’t give this number to just anyone.

Gordon says:
13 December 2014

I have never met anyone who wants cold telephone marketing calls. Wouldn’t it be better and simpler if Parliament just made it illegal to make or to pay others to make cold marketing calls unless the recipient had expressly agreed to receive them. Why bother with things such as codes as practice, etc? These calls are a form of serious harassment and just should not happen.
.

Bob Mason says:
13 December 2014

Most of these nuisance calls originate from outside the UK so

1 Make it a criminal offence for any UK based company to use non-UK based call centres for any kind of marketing call. Directors of companies to face unlimited fines and/or a custodial sentence, if they break this law.

2 All companies convicted of making nuisance calls to make a contribution of 10% of their annual turnover to a central fund to pay for call blocking for vulnerable persons.

My experience is that most of the nuisance calls originate in the UK and are not from big companies – just scammers.

However last week I was repeatedly called by 08004080066 which turns out to be from a UK call centre with a website http://www.2touch.co.uk/ – this is a partner of BT, which has taken the liberty of opting in all customers to its marketing activities ( I was never given an option).Neither BT nor 2touch checked my number against the TPS, but since BT has automatically ‘opted me in’ to marketing I suppose they would claim that I had agreed to accepting marketing calls.

BT gives out emollient advice to customers about avoiding nuisance calls, then invites one to buy their call-blocking phones and subscribe to their blocking services, all the while undermining their customers by using all their details to assist their “preferred partners” etc. This is unethical.

I suggest that everyone takes a look at BT’s November 2014 update of its T&Cs – it is now tracking one’s calls and as an ISP all browsing.

Telemarketing should be made illegal FULL STOP.

The public should not be made to endure this abuse any longer.

It is now relatively inexpensive for a trader to put up a website which each person can choose to contact according to their own wishes.

The fines for breaching regulations should be increased and applied without exception.

In the past GPs, the council and other organisations including Which? used to return calls without withholding their numbers. I wonder if it is strictly necessay for them to do so.

TPS is largely not fit for purpose.In addition Ofcom, the ICO, Action Fraud and the government ministers all seem to have their heads in the sand where nuisance calls are concerned.

I note that the largest group of “stakeholders” – the public – have no representative at the meetings of the aformentioned bodies.

This may be cynical, but if all nuisance calls were made illegal it would put several officials out of work, so there is little incentive to end this pestilence.

To Mr Vaizey I say:

1.Require that all telecommunication providers and services deposit a substantial sum of money for a license to transmit calls to and within the UK;

2. Make all telemarketing and unsolicited trading contacts illoegal.

3. ACTION NOW – IMMEDIATELY – no future dates for compliance. The public has had enough.

For many of the calls that I receive, the TPS appear to be a waste of time. Where the caller’s number is “withheld” or Private Caller” of clearly a fictitious number – or it is an automated call, it seems that the only way of actually trapping out the company that ultimately USES the leads generated from such calls, is to encourage them to contact you regarding their kitchen, solar panels, insulation, etc.
So perhaps an approach could be to offer individuals “reward” (& this need not be a large sum of money), to trap these companies, by getting them to make contact on the pretence of wanting solar panels, double glazing, new kitchen, insulation, etc.
It is the USE of marketing leads generated by unsolicited calls that needs to be made illegal.

Since the 5 of December, I have been pestered daily by unwanted calls from British Gas.

I changed my number on my account on the website and this has not worked.

I have reported every call to Ofcom.

As this persistent harassment has not stopped, my next step will be the threat of legal action.

It is not the first time that I have written in string terms to British Gas.

This is an inefficient company that does not give a damn about its customers.

STRONG terms !

Do you think that cold callers care? I was sitting in an office recently listening to comments from colleagues making these calls.

They were making awful comments about people who were hanging up on them. They were surprised at the rudeness of some people they had called. They did not seem to understand the effect of cold calling.

I wanted to speak up, but I felt it wise to keep quiet, being in a minority of one.

I had previously flatly refused to have anything to do with cold calling.

No, most cold callers don’t care;
1)They don’t care whether you are on the TPS or not
2)They don’t care what the law says
3)They don’t care if the details they give you are false
All they care about are their jobs

Unwanted calls should not be restricted to marketing. They should be for all calls that I did not initiate in the first place.

Actually, I need to qualify this; calls from my family or my manager at work are always welcome, even if I did not start the conversation.

Alan R says:
15 December 2014

Oh dear! Anyone at all interested in this problem (and surely it is everyone) can see from the dozens of postings on this site that nothing less than a complete ban on cold calling will be satisfactory.

There is no doubt that the problem is not reducing (my experience is that it is increasing) and everything should be done by the Government to at least stop it emanating from the UK and NI.

What else is there to say?

Has anyone got any advice about where I stand with the law?

THIS PERSISTENT DAILY HARASSMENT ON THE PART OF BRITISH GAS IS NOW STARTING TO GET ME REALLY UPSET AND STRESSED OUT.

All calls are made from an automated system, with a recorded message.

Matters are made worse by the fact that I have a disability.

In the meantime, I am logging each call with Ofcom.

Should I count myself lucky that I do not get disturbed on a Sunday?

Is there a way to subscribe to a conversation without adding a comment?

I can only find a tick-box next to ‘add new comment’.

I find some of the conversations very interesting to read but I do not always have anything to add.

Not being of a ‘Twittering’ nature I tend not to type ‘Wow”, “Awesome” or “OMG” without good reason.

Perhaps I should simply ask this question on each of the conversations of interest?

You can only follow if you have participated. Maybe Patrick can add that as a possible future upgrade to conversations.

Be careful what you wish for. If you subscribed to an active Conversation you would receive an email every time someone makes a comment, however trivial. With active Conversations, I find it easier to put a bookmark in my Favourites Bar and click on that periodically. Like Terfar, I’m looking forward to upgrades.

Do come and join our discussions, Sid. Anyone who writes entirely in upper case receives capital punishment (conversion to lower case), but pointless puns are permissible.

Sid, I personally find it better to be subscribed. It’s easier than remembering to click on a bookmark.

There is always the possibility of unsubscribing from a thread if you get too many emails.

Over time, conversations stop naturally; I no longer get messages for some of the old ones to which I am signed up.

Another advantage of being subscribed is that you can quickly locate an old thread from your profile. I have tried via the ‘Search’ bar and not always been successful.

It’s the diversity that makes for a good debate Sid. Everyone has something to contribute however small and much is gained from the differing opinions according to ones life experiences as long as you stick with the terms and conditions (not always easy but necessary.) I have found the more interesting the subject the more I have learnt but the harder it is to stay within the guidelines and stay within topic.

I agree with wavechange, Louis, Beryl etc.

Commenting can be fun and you can get a lot out of it. While sometimes things do get heated we always calm down again in the end and 99% of us are nice people.

Without being sad posting comments on Which has changed my life & moved it into a different direction. Take this morning, I was on our local radio talking about SSE’s fine, last week was on BBC Radio talking about my 0871 and love of cold calls, last year I even found myself on TV (I think wavechange might of seen me on TV). None of these would of been possible if i didn’t post comments. Comments are so very important and so many companies do read our comments.

But the most important thing is enjoy it and have fun.

That’s a good point about finding Conversations of interest, Louis. Sometimes Google searches are an effective way tracking down discussions. As Beryl says, there is a lot that can be learned from this site.

Meanwhile back on topic, I suggest that Louis contacts British Gas and makes it very clear that they have no consent to make calls.

Lee – If you can give us a link to your appearance on TV, I’ll watch it. I’m a radio enthusiast rather than a TV viewer.