/ Technology

How can we cut off nuisance calls for good?

Our Conversation on nuisance calls has touched a raw nerve. It’s not often that an option in our poll gets less than 1% support – so far only 17 out of 1,395 voted that ‘the Telephone Preference Service is excellent’.

The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) states ‘this free service gives you the opportunity to select who contacts you by telephone. Once registration is complete telemarketers are legally bound not to call you’.

I’m therefore not at all surprised that so far 73% of you think the TPS doesn’t ‘do what it says on the tin’ – because it doesn’t block all unwanted calls and doesn’t even cover text messages.

Tonight’s BBC Panorama exposes how rogue firms get around the rules on unwanted calls, and for some of them it’s as simple as tearing pages out of a local phone directory and ringing up people at random!

Who can actually take action?

So what can we do about this? Of course it’s not as straightforward as we’d like. There is a complicated hotch-potch of organisations involved. The key one is the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) as it has the power to take action, rather than the TPS.

We’ve now had a reply to our letter – sent from Which? and nine other organisations from Hearing Link to Ofcom’s Communications Consumer Panel – to the ICO, Ofcom and the Direct Marketing Association (which runs the TPS). They’ve invited us to meet them this month at a meeting of their ‘Unsolicited SMS and Voice Working Party’.

Enforcement against breaches of unwanted texts and most calls falls to the ICO under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). On the other hand, Ofcom is responsible for enforcement of silent and abandoned automatic calls.

In the ICO’s reply, it sets out some of things it’s doing to tackle unwanted texts. The bottom line though is that, just like you or me, the ICO’s problem is working out who the sender is. The result is that it has fined just one company in 18 months.

Complaining about unwanted sales calls

To assist the ICO’s intelligence, it now offers an ‘online reporting mechanism’ for consumers to report unwanted texts (and calls) which it hopes will provide additional information to help it track down the nuisance firms.

Just as we thought, the ICO has seen a boom in unwanted calls and texts about claiming PPI compensation and for personal injury claims – in other words from claims management companies. So please do try out the ICO’s spam reporting form on its website.

We’ll be probing further into what investigations the ICO is carrying out and what enforcement action is in the pipeline when we go to see all three organisations later this month. We’ll also ask if the confusing responsibility for tackling unwanted calls and texts is part of the problem.

Another obvious tricky issue is how to deal with nuisance calls from overseas. From your comments, it seems that lots of you have received them and yet there’s little we can do – the TPS can’t block overseas calls. One wonders if the boom in unwanted texts and calls opens up an unnecessary market in paid-for call blocking services provided by many telecom firms?

How does the Telephone Preference Service work for you?

It’s rubbish - I get lots of nuisance calls (76%, 3,204 Votes)

It’s OK - I only get the odd nuisance call (15%, 615 Votes)

I’m not registered with the Telephone Preference Service (8%, 339 Votes)

It’s excellent - I don’t get any nuisance calls (1%, 35 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,196

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Sid Samuel
You are quite correct in thinking that non responders are slowly dropped.
Cold callers play the numbers game, they might get one in fifty to listen to the sales pitch and of those one in ten will buy whatever they are selling; so if it takes twenty seconds a call then it stands to reason that non responders screw up figures and waste time. I don’t know what the actual numbers are but I’m sure you grasp the concept.
I never speak to cold callers because doing so gives them information. If they open with “Mr THUX?” I answer “Who are you”? they are not then sure who I am.
Loosing your temper and arguing with a skilled cold caller may well give information that can be used to target you.

Cas says:
9 June 2015

An alternative is to be very abusive. They don’t tend to ring you back.

Eladram says:
19 December 2014

I am getting calls asking to speak to ‘Mr and Mrs Bain’. As far as I am aware no such people have ever lived here. Also calls for the previous occupants, who died six or eight years ago. Also. ‘Can I speak to the homeowner’. Now I just say ‘No’ as brusquely and rudely as possible, and bang the phone down.

Why are our politicians not doing more to stop this? I repeat: No reputable company needs to cold call, and no other company should be allowed to.

Barry says:
13 January 2015

I have had a regular cold call that comes from around the world for the last two years. I know that it is off the same database that is sold on to other companies because they have my name slightly wrong. it goes on for a couple of weeks then goes quiet until a new company gets the database. Then I get calls for a couple of weeks, today I had the call from a UK company who were trying to sell a ‘cold call elimination’ box they have a website of that name. so I am curious to know how they got my number if they are a legitimate company and not using the same database.

Jenny says:
11 July 2015

I have just read your report, why not get a phone that has Call Guardian with it, we have not had any cold calls for well over 12 months now, all thanks to the phone.. however these people are now getting hold of me on my mobile, but Call Guardian makes a huge difference, you can buy a normal phone with Call Guardian from Tesco, Curry’s , Argos or any such place..


I am currently having a lot of hospital treatment and the hospital rings me and it says “number withheld” on the phone so a lot of these solutions will not work. My own tactic is to just put the phone down on them without saying another word, it seems to work. If you are abusive, they may get disgruntled and decide to call you back. Amazingly, they don’t think they are doing anything wrong!

Steve-M says:
14 January 2015

These wretches at ‘Perfect Preferences’ peaked out at 17 calls in 5 days, some within 10 minutes of each other. I told them I had died but still they called back. Finally I got out the Acme Thunderer whistle (from wifes Girls Guiding days) and gave them serious ear ache. The calls have stopped!


Having been plagued with cold calls for a number of years, despite being on the TPS, I now have a solution. At least it works for me, now my phone only rings if the caller is known to me or has a genuine reason to call.
I also realised that calls from non-UK numbers will always be an issue and no amount of UK/EU guidelines or legislation will ever stop them.
In 2013/14 when I received a ‘cold call’ I recorded the calls and made a note of the date and time. During the call I told them that if they called again I’d invoice them at a rate of £10 per minute. For UK based companies that could be positively identified I confirmed this in an email to them along with a copy of the recorded call. If they called again, I issued the invoice as I’d warned them earlier. For those that said they wouldn’t pay I issued a summons under the HMCTS ‘Money Claim Online’, all then paid up.
I then used the money to buy a phone with ‘Call Guardian’ (mine is the BT8500, currently £55 for a twin phone from Amazon).
Now the phone only rings if the caller is known. Unknown callers are requested to identify themselves, something ‘cold callers’ or auto-dialers, never do.
I’ve now had this phone for nearly 6 months and have never had a ‘cold caller’ or scammer (e.g. those claiming to be from Microsoft regarding an issue with my computer) get through.

CathyB says:
28 February 2015

We also have the BT8500 since January and it has cut out most of the calls thankfully. It was driving me insane. We regularly got a call asking for someone who does not live here, and never has, but they would not listen. Finally I snapped, and swore at them, it did not do any good anyway, they called again the next day! After getting a scam call supposedly from “Scotland Yard”, I spoke to BT Fraud Dept who recommended the BT8500, and this has cut the calls down dramatically. I now know is calling, and only registered numbers get through! Worth getting.


It is wrong that BT should be profiting from these nuisance calls, but until we get regulators that are fit for purpose ( The current proposal that was hitting the papers a few days ago is laughable as it falls so far short of what is needed, its a joke). It’s down to the consumer to protect themselves.

I too have a BT8500 and love it

Walter says:
14 January 2015

What can be done to help an elderly gentleman who gets a lot of these nuisance calls? He is registered with B T preference but is getting calls non the less. (Even had one from a company selling a blocking service!!) He is easily confused and could not possibly record numbers, press buttons etc needs something simple. Any suggestions?

Stuart Sharpe says:
16 January 2015

I have been plagued for a couple of months by a company apparently called Renewable Energy Initiative but this is obviously not the company name. Despite being on TPS I have received numerous recorded calls regarding solar panels. I requested a call back & when a guy did ring back I told him I was on TPS & he shouldn’t be ringing me & to remove my number which he said he would do. This hasn’t stopped them ringing me & I received a call on 15/01/15 from a guy in Poland ( Yes Poland! ) saying he was from Renewable Energy Initiative. I told him politely to go forth & multiply & then received a call on 16/01/15 from a Scottish guy from the same company selling the same solar panels. I asked for his telephone number & he quoted me 0171 8656421 which is not a registered number. As I had received so many calls from these people I did string this guy along making it sound as though I was interested & after talking to him for about twenty minutes, he then asked to make an appointment & that is when I put the phone down. Hopefully, I will not receive any further calls.