/ Technology

Nuisance calls & texts: the government has heard your calls

Calling Time campaign phone

Almost 82,000 of you have called for action on nuisance calls and texts. And the government has finally heard you loud and clear – it’s announced a crackdown on this menace. Do the government’s plans go far enough?

In a new strategy paper called Connectivity, Content and Consumers, the government has announced its plans to clamp down on nuisance calls and texts.

So what does the government propose? For starters, it says that it will implement two of the key asks from our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls & Texts campaign:

1. It will be made easier for Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to share data about nuisance calling companies.

2. It will reduce the level of distress that the ICO must prove before it can take enforcement action – nuisance calls will only have to be annoying, rather than causing ‘substantial harm’.

These changes alone may lead to more effective enforcement action against the worst perpetrators of nuisance calls and texts. And even more rule breakers may face fines if all of us report the calls and texts we’ve had by using the new Which? complaints tool.

Stepping up to nuisance callers

Rightly, the government also wants the industry to do more. Initially, this will focus on stopping nuisance callers from concealing their phone numbers, which at the moment makes it very hard for people to report the caller. Ofcom is working hard with the industry on a technical fix so that a phone number can’t be hidden, in a similar way to how IP addresses are identifiable online.

The government has said that it will go further if necessary, even to the point of introducing new laws that will require call centres to be licensed. The door has also been left open to improve the system of how people give consent to be contacted. However, we want to see the government go further and faster by strengthening the law on consent and the use of personal data. For example, there should be an expiry date on the consent you’ve given to be contacted by third parties, and it should be easier for you to withdraw this consent.

This action from the government cannot come soon enough for the 85% of people who are bombarded by nuisance calls and texts. Still, this isn’t the end of the story. We’ve now got to make sure that the action promised is put into effect. While some of the changes can be made by tweaking existing legislation, we’ll be supporting Mike Crockart MP’s Private Member’s Bill as another legislative vehicle for the government to use this November.

So what do you think of the government’s planned changes to take on the scourge of nuisance calls and texts? Do they go far enough?

Comments
wev says:
1 August 2013

Patrick and Mark McLaren, there’s still nothing about market research calls and the electoral register.

Thanks very much for the explanation about the Which? policy on market research calls, Mark. I support Which? on the vast majority of what it does, but I believe Which? is totally wrong here. Please consider the distress that unsolicited calls can cause to vulnerable members of the community.

I would love to opt into market research calls on issues that interest me, but avoid the majority.

If representative information needs to be collected, then perhaps there are other ways than harassing people with unsolicited phone calls. I recently participated in a market research conversation and the questions were fired at me so fast that I did not have time to give thought to them, and some of my answers were probably not very useful. For me, online questionnaires are the best option, and for others, completing a paper survey is a sensible solution.

wev says:
2 August 2013

Opinion polls are one thing, but how can you tell if other market research is going to be passed on to companies along with your contact details? They’re not going to tell you upfront, and it could be days or weeks afterwards before you get a sales call. You can’t tell TPS and ICO it was the market research company that did it.

And is Which going to add to the campaign something about companies like First Assist, that phone company customers and say they’re that company offering to renew a service or subscription at a discount?

You state that:

“If genuine market research companies (such as opinion polling firms) were not able to ring the millions of numbers registered with TPS then phone based representative samples may not any longer be representative. That’s why Which? does not treat genuine market research the same as cold call marketing.”

BUT – people are under no legal obligation to participate in market research or opinion polls over the telephone, so why shouldn’t they be entitled to opt out of them, as well as sales calls, if they want to? Not being able to opt out of market research calls doesn’t make people who would opt out of them, if they had the choice, any more likely to participate, surely?

Absolutely. We should also be aware that much of this market research is commissioned by the companies that waste so much of our time with sales calls.

I wrote to the MRS representative who posted on one of the Conversations, expressing my concern, but they did not have the courtesy to reply to me.

OldBloke says:
27 August 2013

I have serious issues with Consumer Lifestyles Ltd or Data Locator Group. The latest call after I told them I was on TPS and not interested was an abusive rant towards me and my family. ICO have been informed but whether anything will come of it, I doubt. Perhaps now is the time to remove the feature that enables a person or company to hide their number. We are all focusing lately on anonymous blogging etc., its the same principle with telephone calls. If they can hide their number then they can say what they want and call when they want and no-one it seems can do anything about it. Its time for this practice to be banned and blocked. I would very much suspect that 99% of general public would rather not receive sales or marketing calls, endof. And also the companys that sell phone numbers need to be more regulated just like car registration plates. Its time the government focused on the consumers rights instead of letting business do what they basically want.

Well, i had a new approach today. My phone rang this morning and when I answered it, it went into ‘call return’ mode. That is, it was ringing another number as when you are doing a call return from a previously busy number. When the ‘call’ was answered at the other end, it was in fact someone wanting to sell me a discount sales card. I was furious because I thought it was an emergency call from my daughter and even more so because I was probably paying for the call as well. I haven’t come across this one before and there’s no way of telling whether or not it’s a cold call when the phone rings. Be aware!

Could I also suggest the OFCOM, the ICO et al spend a few minutes looking at whocallsme dot com

My mum has had 3 nuisance calls already today, only 2 had numbers, whocallsme shows 6 pages of people moaning about one number and 15 pages about the other.

I’m really not sure whether I can face filling in yet more forms, as these numbers seem to have been plaguing people since 2011

I guess I should also mention that these forms are designed for whoever received the call to complain about the call. Can the regulators put something in place for people without computer /smart phone access to report calls. Maybe using their phone.

I am registered with TPS but still get at least 3 calls per day!! why?? I have also paid money ie £35.00 to stop these calls, but they still get through!! Just what can I do to stop them??

wev says:
1 August 2013

Who did you pay?

`Say no to cold calling and that is what I do. Immediately I receive such a call I say:-
I do not accept cold calling and put the phone down. If everyone did that they could not succeed.
Believe me I am really plagued with them receiving 3/4 a day.

Eli says:
1 August 2013

I pick up the phone and if I hear either voices obviously from a call centre, or a voice asking for me by name, or a strange accent, I put the phone down without making any sound. Last week I received 3 calls both on Friday and Saturday, then one on Sunday and since then have not received any more. I have found that this method seems to work quite well. The last time I had a two day eruption of these sort of calls was about four months ago , when I used the same technique. And I tried this method at the beginning of the year and again was free of nuisance calls for some time. Before that, when I answered them, even though I did not engage in conversation I was inundated. But of cause I realise this is this is unlikely to help with unsolicitated recorded messages.

Eli says:
1 August 2013

I pick up the phone and if I hear either voices obviously from a call centre, or a voice asking for me by name, or a strange accent, I put the phone down without making any sound. Last week I received 3 calls both on Friday and Saturday, then one on Sunday and since then have not received any more. I have found that this method seems to work quite well. The last time I had a two day eruption of these sort of calls was about four months ago , when I used the same technique. And I tried this method at the beginning of the year and again was free of nuisance calls for some time. Before that, when I answered them, even though I did not engage in conversation I was inundated. But of cause I realise this is unlikely to help with unsolicitated recorded messages.

Martin says:
1 August 2013

Will Number Withheld and International nuisances be addressed? These are the worst. My aged mother gets very distressed and takes a lot of re-assuring after some of these.
Any organisation which withholds it’s number (including the NHS) is behaving like a doorstep visitor who refuses to show any identity. It is not acceptable. I would like to see a system introduced whereby such calls could be traced if there is good reason.

That point about the NHS staff withholding their number being like a doorstep visitor from the NHS refusing to show their identity is a very important one.

The government should require telecommunication providers to install some system whereby anyone withholding their return call number to display either their public access number or text to say who they are. The NHS could have 111, their call centre help service number, displayed, for example.

We should urge the government to set up a date after which this must be introduced or the telecommunication service provider would lose their license.

Most if not all surgeries, whether doctor, dentist or optician have public access numbers listed in the directory and it should be possible to display these when one of their staff telephone a patient.

The same should apply to schools, police, lawyers, local government and so on.

George says:
2 August 2013

It is not rocket science. The US implemented legislation decades ago that addressed the problems – which the six-figured salaried officers of ICO and Ofcom appearing in interviews on TV news programmes contend to be so very difficult to do anything about. For a beginning, they could just copy the US regulations for implementation in the UK (with a statutory legal basis, together with effective penalties and punishment, not the common industry self-regulation rubbish).

R. Beckham says:
2 August 2013

I’ve had numerous calls on my mobile saying it is my bank and they would like details before proceeding but when the details they asked for went way beyond what they should have been asking I said I’m not prepared to answer all these personal questions which would jeopardise my security. They now continue to come in as “number blocked”. Also market research companies sometimes tend to ask questions concerning financial matters and ask too much. What the government is proposing is fine to a point – a start but will they, as usual, drag their feet to get legislation passed. I am registered with TPS.,

George says:
2 August 2013

Regarding Mark McLaren comments – it does not seem to be appreciated that many if not a majority of overseas calls originate from British businesses who are using international telephone facilities to get round any UK controls or private filters.

Rural voter says:
2 August 2013

As has been said earlier, the USA apparently dealt with this years ago. Americans also tend to be more assertive. Is this linked?

Some UK individuals seem to have solved the problem or at least obtained recompense by suing somebody. I have surprisingly stopped almost all calls for the moment by threatening to sue the DMA and telling them that I would willingly test the legal point on vicarious liability in the county court if I get more nuisance calls from DMA members or anyone else.

Why don’t more individuals do this? It’s not difficult. The government will probably do nothing significant until its hand is forced; e.g., by consumers taking the matter into their own hands and hurting these companies – probably many of them are Tory donors? – in their wallet.

Bob Mason says:
2 August 2013

I’ll believe it when it it is on the statute books.

Call me a cynic but after the government has heard from “the industry” [i.e. the donors to party funds] they will probably decide they need to “consult” more and “see how this kind of legislation has worked in other countries” or some other kind of excuse before proceeding,

Anyone else seen the news today ? Personal Injury companies advertising in hospitals? Apparently the govt told hospital trusts not to allow that as far back as 2004. And yet in 2013 its still happening.

So call me a cynic but I’m not holding my breath that anything will happen with this.

wev says:
3 August 2013

There’s also product advertising in hospitals

http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3448

http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3448?tab=responses

Mothers are given goodie bags with child benefit claim forms

wev says:
4 August 2013

So has anyone heard the news today about it?

So it seems clear that the government have no intention of putting a stop to all of this and are in fact supporting it by legislating for it. Don’t they listen, what most people want is a simple outright ban on all cold calling whether it’s by phone, text or on the doorstep. Most of us would support a ban to stop spam emails too. Presumably they want it to carry on because it employs people in call centres and those call centres must think the business it generates is worth it.
Personally I would never agree to anything where they approach me first as it suggests an aggressive selling technique and that never reflects well on a company. If I want goods or services I like to chose who to approach and do so when I am ready.

George says:
3 August 2013

I agree with Buzzbee. It is the issue of call centre jobs which is holding the Government back from taking action, which of course means that the Government is colluding with the abuse.

And, of course, they are getting VAT and employment taxes and thereby a record of economic activity and employment. Although a side issue to this discussion, I do think that there should be a services tax levied on services and VAT on items of value, so that the returns give a truer idea of what wealth or value is really being generated each year.

Alan says:
3 August 2013

I would like to see a simple system whereby ALL automated or cold calls had to be made from a telephone number beginning with set digits (in the same way that all UK mobile numbers start with 07).

That way you could choose whether to pick up the handset at all (assuming you have Caller ID).

Also any company engaged in this activity has to – BY LAW – make a substantial deposit of money so if a caller receives an unwanted call they can press a digit on their telephone keypad – and this will AUTOMATICALLY remove their number form future calling campaigns by the organisation and gives a £1 donation to a nominated charity (from the lodged deposit).

This has to be regularly topped up so they at least pay for the inconvenience and charities will benefit. A minimum deposit of say £50,00 to £100,000 should focus their minds! Call campaigns would have stop once the deposit it exhausted and cannot start up again until another £50,000 or £100,000 is deposited again.

That is another good idea, but it must also be illegal to withhold this number. However I would still like to see the concept of withheld numbers removed.

People could leave their names or a code automatically rather than just “number withheld” if they really wanted to, but it would seem reasonable for telecommunications service providers to levy a charge to those who want this level of anonymity.

Dave Stead says:
4 August 2013

I don’t think it needs to be illegal to withhold a number, but BT charging the consumer to opt out of receiving calls from witheld numbers is a protection racket that the mafia could be proud of!

It could be illegal for a registered cold caller to withhold their number. (Or at least a condition of registration that they do not withhold their number, which would amount to the same thing.)