/ 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.

A Wright says:
13 June 2013

I work from home and despite having telephone preference we were getting between 2 and 6 of these calls most days. After a particularly frustrating day, I decided to put my answer phone to better use. I changed my message. It now says ‘Hello, we have telephone preference so if you’re cold calling please make a note of that. However, if you are a friend, please leave a message after the tone…..

Our friends know now to hold as we will pick up as soon as we hear their voice. However, cold callers put the phone down as soon as they have heard the first sentence. Job done! We now only get a call every few days, so it must be working.

Glynnis Newboult says:
13 June 2013

Today I have had no fewer than seven unsolicited telephone calls, presumably from the same company, purportedly an unavailable international number. My answering machine has been very busy. Having listened to the calls, the voice is female and computerized. I am absolutely fed up with this invasion of my privacy. There is also another company, in England, who seem to know me, my name, address AND telephone number, although I am ex directory and caller withheld numbers are rejected. This company also has their number withheld but seem able to get round, or through, the caller withheld number rejection. How come I am ex directory (for a reason, I might add – in order NOT to be disturbed by useless calls), yet these companies can find out my details? What happened to the Data Protection Act?

My biggest bugbear is when the caller states “You expressed an interest in our product in a recent phone survey.” This is a complete lie as I never respond to surveys on the phone.

Faith says:
13 June 2013

Despite TPS I am stillbeing called by people declaring they are fromWindows or Microsoft who have discovered something wrong with my computer which only they can solve. I put down the phone at once but a friend believed this and was directed to a website which told her to uninstall everything on her computer and install a whole lot of programs from the site — goodness knows what she has got on there now!

Foxyface says:
14 June 2013

Surely pressure can be put on TPS to extend their powers to address these issues. In addition it seems to me that MPs have a role here in debating –and introducing by law-strict guidelines for intrusions into privacy and abuse of personal data.

Jardinier says:
14 June 2013

There’s usually sufficient delay between the ‘phone ringing and the cold caller answering to cut them off. Some of my tactics are to say the ‘he’s in prison and will call you back in 6 months’ or ‘ how lovely to hear from you. Is the weather nice where you are? What are you going to have for your dinner / supper / lunch?’ or just a plain ‘no thanks, not today,goodbye’. All seem to confuse sufficiently long to hang up without being too rude..

My problem has been with a charity ( well known high profile one ) to which I made a monthly donation until this week . In the past few weeks they have been ringing me on my mobile and landline several times a day . I usually miss the calls due to being at work . When I do hear the ring I ignore it . Why can’t they come to their senses and just leave a message ? I have just cancelled the direct debit.

George says:
15 June 2013

What is the point of TPS when to submit a complaint to them their requirement is for you to answer the rubbish calls and find out the company name and details to submit to TPS, and what is the point of ICO public service employment at six figure salaries for the people in charge when their requirements are similar to TPS. The whole system is weighted against the victims of the rubbish calls while not disturbing the working environment of the people that are supposed to be doing something about the problems. It would not make any difference if they were all dispensed with.

Peter Parkins says:
15 June 2013

I too registered early with the TPS. The situation has grown so bad that I do not answer calls that are flagged as “international”. The worst problem is “withheld numbers”. Sometimes these are numbers that I would want to take like NHS calls. When I queried why the NHS withheld numbers I was told that it was for data security,though why they cannot leave a message to ring back and then run a security check beats me.

Tom Smith, Kirkmichael. says:
15 June 2013

Drive me nuts !! My caller introduced his pitch,,

When you die, do you want buried or cremated. ?
Who trained this eejit ? Also, these fashion linguists end a statement with a QUESTION MARK???. for example ,, ” I am calling regarding your eventual death ???.

I used to quite like Michael Parkinson.

ken hewitt says:
15 June 2013

next time you get a nuisance telephone call give handset to a two year old child or put handset next to television. I find this effective

I’ve had many types of nuisance calls and usually when I ask where they got my number from they say “are you on TPS?” and when I confirm they say they will take my details off their database. However they often call again! I’ve had offers on lost pensions, mortgages, PPI, accident claims, government energy help etc etc.
A recent ruse is UK companies using an agency centre from abroad so they cannot be stopped via TPS or ICO. Yesterday I had a call from Sam of Consumer Lifestyles who “just wanted to interview me so we could help other consumers. I am not selling anything”. When questioned she openly said she was phoning from a call centre in the Phillipines but their company was based in “Watford, London, England” (sic) and gave a contact number 02920656753.
I often fill in the TPS online complaint form but usually I get a reply email saying they can’t help as it’s from abroad, and their online complaint form is inadequate for giving some details of the calls.

Eve Gilkes says:
15 June 2013

I have got to the stage where I do not answer the telephone as we have had so many ‘cold’ calls.
You pick the phone up and the line immediately goes dead. I can have come down stairs to answer the phone, which all takes time, I sometimes rush so that I do not miss the call, which could lead to an accident, I am 75.
By not answering every call now, I am afraid too that I may miss an important call from a family member, even an emergency.
We continue to get double glazing firms calling us, but the call is brief, we have a thatched roof and are a listed building, once you mention that they ring off.
If anyone asks to speak to me, I say I am out and that they are speaking to the cleaner!
It brings the worst out in me!

I got a call last week from someone claiming to be from the Motor Insurance Bureau about an accident I’d had in the last 2 and a half years. What I should have said was “oh right which one”, unfortunately it was food time and that was all I could cope with. When pushed to tell me were he’d got those “accident” details from he said the Motor Insurance Bureau. Oh it was obviously a scam as I’ve had no such accident. The number was of course with held and the MIB is a valid company name but probably not the company he was was calling from.

The first line of defence must be making hiding your number illegal, and using bogus number is counted in that too.

Andrea says:
18 June 2013

To stop nuisance texts on my mums mobile i used the Text Preference Service, Texts have nearly all stopped now.

Caroline G Howlett says:
20 June 2013

I use a CPR Call Blocker, purchased from Argos. Works brilliantly.

John Rowson says:
21 June 2013

I have been registered for TPS since it started. Makes no difference they still ring! Some say its a survey collection data so some one else can ring my TPS number with sales calls!

Now I ask them if they have checked whether my number is TPS registered. No one has ever said YES, so these companies are breaching the TPS rules but usually withhold their telephone number. I would never ever buy goods or services from a cold caller anyway!

Jay says:
23 June 2013

I’ve been TPS registered for more than 15 years, and over the last few years have had an increase in calls to similar levels to what I had before registration. I always ask the caller why they’re calling a TPS registered number (and sometimes correct some of the frankly ridiculous explanations they give), and I always put in a complaint as well.

The number of UK based sales calls, from an actual human being, has dropped to almost nothing again now.

BUT, and it’s a big but, what is increasing is the number of recorded message calls (PPI reclaim, debt management etc), and calls from overseas that are allegedly “surveys” (which will then be passed on to companies as sales leads). There seems currently to be nothing that can be done to tackle these?

revbj says:
24 June 2013

I’ve been fooled by NCR (Nuisance Calls Registry) purporting to be a follow on from TPS and offering to extend the service, at the end of the conversation it cost me £35 + VAT.. I discovered too late that they are on the list of bogus support on the TPS main page. They imply they can go further than TPS can and offer a lifetime service for this one off low cost.

I am not naive, would never give out my details, never follow up those who promise the earth – yet on this occasion i was taken for a ride.I felt sure they had been passed on by TPS information to their office adn they were doing me a favour.

Moral : Aaways check with an official site if in any doubt.


The NCR is a funny one. I know what you mean about feeling fooled. Where it gets a bit grey though is that the NCR do contact companies on your behalf (I’ve seen some of the letters), but there is little doubt in my mind that whatever they are doing it cannot possibly offer as effective a solution as the TPS itself and to suggest that they can or that what they offer is better is unfounded in my opinion.

The fact is that the TPS is free to register on and IS used by thousands of legitimate businesses every day. If you want to register on the TPS or the CTPS you do not need to pay anyone. Its free http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/number_type.html

Richard Kane

I have not been paying much attention, wev. If you suspect there is an advert, just click on ‘Report this comment’ and our moderators will look at the post. I would not like the job of deciding what is advertising and what is someone trying to be helpful and letting us know about a useful product.

As far as I’m concerned all the devices on sale are useless for my purpose. I liaise with the local council and various quangos. Their numbers are not shown but their calls are important.

wev says:
28 June 2013

wave, are you still reading this? Have you noticed the two adverts in the middle of the topic?

These have been removed. If you’re interested in TPS, register here for free: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/number_type.html