/ Health, Technology

More than a nuisance: the serious side of nuisance calls

Man on the street

You might think nuisance calls are just a passing annoyance. But, for many, unsolicited phone calls are more than just a nuisance. We’ve heard form vulnerable people who find these calls distressing and intimidating.

I want you to imagine that you’re at home on your own. Now, imagine that you’re worried about something, perhaps you’re unwell and you’re waiting for the hospital to call. Many have shared such stories here on Which? Conversation as part of our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign.

There’s a serious side to nuisance calls that’s making life a lot harder for people. Here are just some of the thoughts you’ve shared.

‘At one point she refused to answer the phone at all’

Norie was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. This required him to sit by the phone waiting for calls from three different hospitals so that arrangements could be made for radiation therapy. I’ll leave it to Norie to tell you what happens next:

‘Can you imagine the distress caused, when nerves on edge, my wife and I would answer the phone to find some twit wittering on about PPI compensation, solar energy panels, loft insulation grants. I wish I’d kept a log, but was too distraught to do so at the time. The stress and untold harm that did to my body, whilst carrying the dreaded disease, is immeasurable.’

Norie is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

We also heard from Penny who told us about her 94-year-old mother. Every time the phone rings, Penny’s mother has to switch off the TV to get up to answer the phone. Not only is this physically difficult for her, when she does answer the phone she finds the calls intimidating:

‘These calls are often about computers or debt services. She finds this quite scary and at one point refused to answer the phone at all, which worried us as we did not know if she was unwell.

‘Now when we phone her we let the phone ring twice, put the phone down then call again. This alerts her to the fact that one of her family is trying to speak to her. But we should not have to do this.’

Penny’s mother is registered with the TPS.

‘These calls really are a harassment’

Which? Conversation has received so many of these stories. Keith’s wife was diagnosed with MS 28 years ago and, now 77, she’s confined to a wheelchair. When she’s alone in the house and she answers the phone to a silent caller, she becomes distressed:

‘All that effort which she often has to spend just getting from where she is to the telephone, only to find that there is no one to speak to.’

Again, this couple is registered with the TPS.

R. Thomas suffers from Parkinson’s disease and also has a respiratory disease requiring constant oxygen:

‘The problem is that, as I need and often receive calls pertaining to my care and activities, I just cannot ignore the phone when it “rings”.

‘They are nearly always calls re PPI or loan insurance. I can receive up to 15 to 20 calls a day. I really am fed up, surely there must be a way that these calls can be stopped or the perpetrators prosecuted because they really are a harassment. If only I was well enough I would be able to pursue the problem actively but I’m powerless. I support any action that you are able to take to effect and remove this blight on my time and health.’

So on behalf of everyone here and the many, many others who have told us that there is a much more serious side of nuisance calls, we’re listening.

[UPDATE 10/06/2013] – We’re now calling on the government to take action on nuisance calls and texts amid our latest research which reveals the scale of the problem.

We gave regulators 12 weeks to form a joint taskforce to stop unwanted calls and texts. Time’s up. While there has been some progress and coordinated action, there needs to be a new tougher approach, led by the government. You can help by pledging your support for our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign here.

S walker says:
25 July 2013

I feel very angry about the amount of nuisance calls my 91 year old father receives. He is severely disabled and is on oxygen 24 hours a day.
It’s a disgrace that vulnerable people should have to put up with this type of harassment all the time.


You didn’t mention whether or not your father is registered on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Some might criticise it and suggest it is ineffective, but that’s not entirely true or fair. Many companies operate within the guidelines set by the Direct Marketing Association and OFCOM and do in fact screen their lists prior to making calls.

The ‘call problem’ in this country is rather like any other problem…there will always be an element that does not care for the rules, but we need to be careful that in the pursuit of these few, we don’t damage the operations of the many legitimate companies out there that operate within the set guidelines.

If your father is not registered on the TPS you can register him here: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/number_type.html

S walker says:
25 July 2013

Thank you
My father has been on TPS for 2 years and it doesn’t seem to have made much difference.


TPS Services

I am registered with TPS and maybe I am one of the few who believes the service works. Unfortunately, not all companies abide by the rules, so it is hardly surprising that TPS has such a poor reputation.

The only solution is to BAN ALL MARKETING CALLS except where people have opted-in to receive them. I would like to be able to go to a website and pick those companies/products that I would be happy to receive information offers from. I just don’t want to receive the majority of these calls.

S walker says:
25 July 2013

That is a great idea!


Always makes me smile when people say that. What you are referring to is the holy grail of marketing. Every company wants it, truth is consumers won’t co-operate.

If you ban all marketing, that might sound like an ideal idea, but you have to be careful what you wish for. Let’s be honest, we’re talking telephone calls and soon for sure, but who really wants adverts on TV or to pay money for magazines that have over 60% of the space taken up with adverts or online TV that forces you to watch adverts. The point is, rather like so called email ‘spam’. If you eliminated the ‘real’ culprits, what is left is workable. If you take it away entirely, you do genuinely affect the majority operating compliantly.

It’s no win situation I appreciate. We (TPS Services) simply try to encourage companies to screen their data to prevent this kind of issue. If everyone ‘did their bit’ we’d be ok.

Foreign companies are a nightmare though, I think we can all agree that.


Why not make it illegal to withhold or spoof the number your dialling from. 90% of the nuisance calls I get have no return number and are silent, its impossible to report those, If I had a number I could report them.

And why not give the end user the ability to enter a code during or after a call to flag up the call as a nuisance. And make the phone operators earn their money for once.


TPS Services

I know exactly what I wish for. 🙂

Incidentally, I don’t believe that I have ever bought anything as a result of a phone call from any company where I am not a current customer. If I get a call from a company that I have dealt with in the past (insurance companies seem fond of doing this) they get told that they must remove my name from their database and if I receive another call they will be blacklisted and not considered in future. RIAS and e.on have had this warning and I am pleased to report that neither has pestered me again. Direct marketing is a waste of time as far as I’m concerned, and I am concerned because it is my time that is being wasted.

Next time I renew my car insurance and breakdown cover, I would be happy to tick a box and receive calls about these topics, and de-register my interest as soon as I have arranged cover. I do prefer to speak to people about insurance rather than just get quotations online.

My solution to TV adverts is not to watch commercial TV. On the rare occasions that I watch it online, I just switch windows while the adverts are on. Spam I can cope with because it does not require immediate attention and there are ways of minimising it.