/ Technology

‘Regulators must punish more nuisance callers’

Man staring with phone

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today published its nuisance calls report. In this guest post, the Committee’s Chairman, John Whittingdale MP, outlines their recommendations.

Most of the time, an unsolicited marketing call is, at best, an unwanted nuisance. People who have registered with the Telephone Preference Service are particularly annoyed – and rightly so – when they receive marketing calls from individuals and organisations unknown to them.

An offshoot of the Direct Marketing Association, the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), can do nothing more than provide a slap on the wrist to offending callers, while its overseer, the Direct Marketing Commission, is hamstrung by an inability to gain access to relevant information because of data protection provisions. It is left to the Information Commissioner to take action; he does so all too rarely even when the TPS is able to identify the nuisance caller.

The Direct Marketing Commission has shown a willingness, at least in principle, to get involved and badger those who break the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations. We should support them in this endeavour; allowing them to share relevant information would be a start. Serial and serious offenders could then be targeted by the Information Commissioner who has real enforcement powers. He needs to use these much more often.

Making nuisance call complaints

The communications regulator, Ofcom, has started to respond to the growing problem of nuisance calls but, so far, it has limited itself to dealing with a tiny fraction of silent and abandoned calls. Many of these are the result of automated diallers in call centres. Like the ICO, Ofcom needs more information and greater incentives to tackle the problem.

People who receive nuisance calls – and millions of us do – need to have the means to report them to the relevant regulator. BT’s recent decision to charge explicitly for its basic caller display service is a deeply regrettable indication and we hope they will reconsider it; the same can be said of other communications service providers who likewise charge.

Finally, consumers don’t need a single regulator. What they should have is a single point of contact. Which? has shown initiative in providing a useful tool that points consumers to the relevant regulator. However, a single simple online complaints form which can be automatically directed for appropriate response would be better. And the 15% of the population without internet access, many of them in vulnerable groups, should have a single telephone number they can call. This nuisance call complaints line should be advertised, naturally enough, on the bill we pay.

So what happens next? The Government must respond to my Committee’s report within 60 days. However, we’re also expecting the Government to soon publish an Action Plan on what it proposes to do for the millions who are fed up with nuisance calls and texts.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from John Whittingdale MP, Chairman for the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on nuisance calls. All opinions expressed here are John’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

maggie says:
10 January 2014

We are now receiving telephone calls through the night and waking up the whole house. We have children who have to go to school and we have to go to work and this is really disturbing our sleep. When I dial 1471 to see who they are the numbers are not ‘withheld’ but are ‘sorry we do not have a number for this caller’ what can we do about this as these calls are not only annoying they are damaging our health! This is not a one off it is happening two and three times a week.

PeterM says:
27 February 2014

The only thing I can suggest is to unplug your phone(s) at night to get a full night’s sleep.

Most adults have a mobile phone, and while I’m reluctant to suggest you unplug the landline [NB not any internet router, just phone handset(s), (or in the case of cordless, have the base unit power cable come via a timer switch, so it can automatically be off from say 2300 to 0630) ], the fact you probably have a mobile would mean that if necessary, your own parents could still contact you in an emergency, via the mobile, if they are already familiar with calling that and/or have their own mobiles with your mobile number in the address book.

If you and your children are losing sleep over this, then unplugging the phone to get unbroken nights seems a relatively harmless solution. Obviously it is not very convenient, and while cordless phones are very popular, the recommendation is still to have one fixed line phone (for emergencies if there is a power cut, when cordless phones won’t operate), but even some of the fixed cord phones have a ringer volume switch, for high, low, and a few have On/Off switches… more convenient than unplugging, and if you have cordless phones on a mains timer, you can leave a wired phone plugged in (ringing off or minimum) and rely on the power to the cordless base unit being off to “silence” the rest of your household phones.

‘Unknown’ numbers are not as common as ‘International’ but cannot easily be blocked on the phone network (because it is easier to block calls where number is ‘Withheld’ but not where the number is ‘unknown’).

Also, while some might want to ignore ‘Withheld’ those calls may be made by NHS staff, so probably worth screening using an answerphone that allows the caller to be heard… Of course, for confidentiality reasons, some NHS callers would not leave any information, because asking an individual to call a particular unit would in itself divulge information the recipient might not want to be known to anyone else in the same property.

maggie says:
10 January 2014

I once reported BT to the TPS for constant marketing calls after telling them to stop. I did get an apology from BT and they did stop.


Here is a solution that will solve the problem for us, and make money for the telephone companies.

Surprisingly we need to copy a French service. For one euro per month, France Telecom will provide the following service. When a caller withholds their number they receive a message asking for their name. If they leave a name, the phone then rings and France Telecom tells the subscriber the name. The call can then be taken or disconnected as the subscriber wishes.

In all cases the unwanted caller will not leave a name and the subscriber will not be troubled. Brilliant eh?

Any telephone engineers out there who can say how we could make this happen?

PeterM says:
27 February 2014

I think the 0800 reverse call service (very expensive, runs to about £4-5 for receiving a call) which was aimed at teenagers needing to “phone home” but who have seen the adverts and not known that one can ring the operator and ask for a reverse charge call, does just that – gets the caller’s name and rings the destination, asking if they will accept the call. Not sure if the caller could give their location (and then parent would know where their teenager was to be found!).

BT offers it to existing customers (but not available for new supply) as one of their 4 levels of “Ex Directory” service, but it is far more than 1 Euro – £30 per quarter (inc VAT). It’s shown in the Price List ( http://www.bt.com/pricing/current/Inland_Operator_boo/sectoc.htm Section 39, Part 3 )

My estimate of £4-5 for 0800 Reverse is out of date. Seems it is £6.00 for connection and then either £1.20 per 30 seconds (from a Payphone) or £2.40 per minute (from a landline). From a mobile, the network might charge the caller for the 0800 call, and then similar charges come into force. As can be seen from the web link above, two other services (08000 MumDad and YAK!) offer similar services to 0800 Reverse, but 08000 MumDad is about half the price of the other two.

Those services do something similar to the France Telecom service in taking a caller’s name. However the services I’ve outlined are for providing a “free to the caller, expensive for recipient” connection, but the technology must be similar – ‘A’ makes a call, records a very brief message/name…. recording played to recipient ‘B’, who decides whether to continue with the call and speak to ‘A’

I know I would be willing to use a service like that of France Telecom, at £1/ month, if it was to screen all calls. The ‘reverse charge’ systems were designed to make money for the service providers, in the main (else they would not have put up money for TV ads for the 0800 Reverse service 5+ years ago).


Isn’t this essentially what the trueCall system does?

Kaktus says:
21 February 2014

When I first joined the referencing scheme the nuisance calls virtually stopped but now
things are worse than ever. I have complained to my service provider , Virgin Media, but the only measures they suggest will cost me money. The telephone companies make money out of nuisance calls so it is a disgrace that they charge to resolve a problem of their own making.

PeterM says:
6 March 2014

But the problem is not “of their own making” – it’s because of

A) firms (such as a number of solicitors) making it financially attractive to have others make cold calls on the basis of the solicitors acting (for a hefty fee) on behalf of some of the public, and

B) fraudsters, making calls to con people, vulnerable or not, into handing over credit/debit card details, either because the caller is selling services or goods (which may or may not exist) or selling such things as timeshare holidays, etc, or simply scaring a recipient (the “you have a virus”, “your card details have been used”, etc)

Yes, it would be nice for the telecom services to provide Caller Display/Caller ID services for free, and given that “System X” features were introduced in the late 80s, it MIGHT be the case that the Government, OFCOM, and any other authorities could now demand an investigation as to whether the costs for the software have already been met and charging customers extra for these services is now unjustified, with the original ROI having now been more than covered (for all I know Openreach may have been paid 10 times over what the software cost was back in the 80s, and now the charges are simply profit out of cu