/ Technology

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: why we’re blocking withheld numbers

Man looking at phone

On 16 May it will be a legal requirement for companies to provide a valid number when they call you. Here’s Baroness Neville-Rolfe to explain why.

Nuisance calls are irritating. So irritating in fact that nearly 170,000 complaints were made to the regulator – the Information Commissioner’s Office – on this issue last year alone.

We’ve already made it easier for rogue companies to be fined by reducing the need for the regulator to prove that substantial damage and distress has been caused by the calls. We’re also spending £1/2 million to provide call-blocking devices to vulnerable people.

Isolated and desperate

But this phenomenon can be far worse than a nuisance. In some cases people are being bombarded with confusing or aggressive calls. Some are conned into handing over money and others feel forced to unplug their phone.

This is maddening under the best of circumstances, but the phone is some people’s only form of communication, so they can be left totally isolated, desperate and at risk.

This has to stop.

Mandatory caller display

That’s why the Government is changing the law. Companies that make cold calls will have to show caller identification.

That means you can refuse to pick up a call if you don’t recognise the number. And if a company harasses you, you can take down their number and report them to the Information Commissioner’s Office. It can hit offenders with fines of up to £500,000. You can also report offenders to Ofcom, which can impose fines of up to £2m.

We’re sending a clear message to rogue direct marketing companies – nuisance calls are unacceptable and we will not hesitate to take action against the companies behind them.

Nuisance calls are a serious issue, which is why we have taken serious action

This is a guest contribution by Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Intellectual Property. All opinions are her own, not necessarily those of Which?


Hello Helena I sympathise your problems with BT Mail , I too am with BT Mail , although I am ex-BT it is not a service I am happy about in that it lets through a lot of spam/junk and even virus laden mail . BT dont run it an American company does (Critical Path ) anything BUT ! . In any case go to mail.yandex.com/ -or just input yandex mail in your browser -click -create account -once you create an account – click on the gearwheel symbol at top right – it says -all settings -then click on -import mail from another account -fill in the box -email (import mail from ) with your BT email address -ie- helena****** @btinternet.com then fill in password of your BT email address -then turn on importer (click on ) . For Thunderbird email client – this is a programme that sits on your computer (it can be hidden ) and downloads all your BT emails directly to your computer , you dont need to visit BT email service – although you MUST visit it in 4 months or so or you will lose it – Visit mozilla .org/en-US/thunderbird/ OR just input thunderbird email service then click on free download – under NO circumstances visit ANY other download website -ie -cnet or others ONLY mozilla direct . Any other help on this let me know Helena , I will stay with you.

Helena says:
10 August 2016

Hello Duncan, I’ve just done as you suggested & opened a yandex account so don’t yet know if it works, tho’ somewhat to my surprise (as I’m so utterly useless on the computer) my emails have appeared in it straight away, so hopefully, in a few days time I can report real progress in the spam eradication stakes. I hadn’t been on the computer for nearly a week & was snowed under with hundreds of spams, often the same one straight after itself 4-5 times; I’m looking forward to crushing the lot!!!

Good Helena – keep me informed of the progress Yandex should automatically put all the spam into the junk/trash , BT Mail certainly does NOT do that . I still get all the rubbish emails through as ordinary mail . BT couldnt care less about this service and it pulls the companies prestige right down to the ground , but the shareholders seem to be happy .

Helen Aneja says:
11 August 2016

Well, Duncan, A bit disappointing, I’ve just looked at my bt emails & there they all were; some in spam & some mixed in to my ordinary mails, I emptied the older ones (2 days old) from the spambox & transfered all yesterdays’ ones from the inbox to the spam box & then looked up the yandex site but there were none in its spam box & only 2 in the inbox. I was on the Which site as there was a quiz about scams & I thought light may have been thrown on my problem but it didn’t. I’m going for coffee now as my computer-tolerance levels are pretty low! — — I’ll try again later, — — ha-ha, I’m really fed up with it all.

Okay Helena here is one that guarantees to remove all spam and isnt well known but is used by professionals and Businesses ,it costs a lot of money but they do a free addition . You must be running Windows ,it wont work with other systems ,its called –mailenable.com , there is a free edition .They use a special email server and there is no spyware or adware on the free version its a type of web mail service , if I wasnt using LInux I would give it a try . Go to -mailenable.com/standard_edition.asp to read about it

Lawrie says:
28 August 2016

I am still getting phone calls from “withheld numbers”. I have had success with call blocking through my provider ” TalkTalk” but one of the problems with “withheld numbers” is that it seems to include those callers who are ex-directory and therefore could be people one actually know. Is this the case?

I think every phone needs a ‘block’ list and an ‘allow’ list to provide a completely useful service.

Lawrie – yes your right of coarse some calls could be made by callers who are listed by, in my case ,as being “ex-directory ” but the sad news is , it doesnt work other than your name not appearing in the telephone book or on a phone display . Everybody +his cat and dog know your telephone number even in China and all parts of the globe . As far as Joe/or Josephine Public are concerned the days of privacy in all aspects of your life are over -unless you are an MP or a Lord or Lady(or higher ) or are “involved ” with the government.

Kathryn Wells says:
31 August 2016

Companies are still withholding their numbers so how do we deal with that, we can’t trace them even though it is against the law

It’s one thing seeing a number the could possibly a UK number, I receive such displays saying OUT OF AREA which is supposedly from either BT, SKY or TALKTALK suggesting that I have a internet or router connection problem and I am asked to log on for them to put things right, unfortunatly these calls have gone on for so long my replies have become very rude and I have ended up expressing my full knowledge of the Anglo Saxon english vocabulary.
I can bar calls but how does one bar calls with no indentifing numbers?. I also get such numbers as 09990999, 0123456789, 1234567890, 666666. I am at a bit of a loss other than shouting down the phone to them.

Here we are, 11 May 2017 and nuisance callers still withhold numbers despite this legal requirement. Then there are others who display a false number. The solution we adopted last September was to invest in a BT8500 Advanced Call Blocker telephone (OK, so our old phone had finally started to get ‘iffy’ after 8 years use and we needed a new one). This requires unrecognised numbers, withheld numbers, etc., to announce themselves before being put through. You don’t need to be a BT customer to use one but you do need to pay for Caller Display. Result? We don’t get disturbed by nuisance calls, they just hang up. However, the call logger still shows such callers using ‘withheld’ numbers. The only down side is that some genuine callers think they are speaking to a voice bank and hang up as well. On the other hand, if they can’t be bothered to leave a message it can’t be really, really important. Recently, we have realised the number of incoming scam calls has seemed to have declined – it would seem that word has got around the scammers that this number is a waste of time. Beats TPS hands down.