/ Technology

Wake-up call for nuisance phone calling companies

Cartoon with confused people on phone

Ring, ring! ‘Hello, this is an urgent message regarding your PPI.’ Are you fed up with nuisance phone calls like this? Now the worst offenders are getting a nasty wake-up call of their own.

Anger over nuisance calls appears to be growing, and quite rightly too. The latest Ofcom complaints data shows that complaints made to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) have increased 150% from July 2011 to July 2012.

When we’ve written about this issue previously, 76% of you told us you were still receiving unsolicited calls despite being registered with the TPS. The numbers are simply staggering, so what’s being done to improve the situation?

The TPS makes it clear on its website that there’s been a rise in the number of unwanted calls made to people registered with the service. However, it says that most of these calls originate from companies that deliberately ignore the law or hide/disguise their identity. The TPS itself doesn’t actually have any enforcement powers, but it does send its complaints to Ofcom and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) each month.

However, despite the TPS sending through more than 1,000 complaints each month, the ICO has yet to issue a fine against any company.

Naming and shaming the worst cold callers

In our joint letter to the ICO, Ofcom and the Direct Marketing Association (who run the TPS), we raised the possibility of publishing statistics on the most complained about companies.

We then decided to go one step further and sent a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the ICO asking for the names of these companies. And finally, last week, we had a breakthrough! The ICO has decided to start publishing information around the enforcement action that it’s taking, and specifically naming and shaming the nuisance calling companies that have had the most complaints.

The list is hardly surprising – six Claims Management Companies, TalkTalk (which is still being investigated by Ofcom for making ‘persistent’ silent calls), a couple of home improvement companies, and two energy companies (British Gas and Scottish Power). These companies have assured the ICO that they’re working to address concerns about their calling tactics.

The publication of this list, alongside information on the ICO’s enforcement actions, demonstrates that the ICO’s taking a new approach to nuisance calls. It represents a very important first step in the fight against cold calling, although there’s still much more that needs to be done.

We want the ICO to send a clear message to companies that ignoring the TPS will not be tolerated. As well as naming and shaming these companies, we also want to see the ICO fine companies that breach the law.

Are you still being plagued by nuisance calls? Have you complained to the TPS or the ICO?


we use sky,as do an awful lot of others,what really gets on my wick is the persistant calls morning noon and night about insurance or extending warranties on my sky box,if i wanted the extended warranty i would have taken it out when i ordered the box,we have told them so many times that we dont want the ex warranty,but it doesnt make the blinded bit of difference they still keep phoneing every day apparrently its in the contract that you sign when you first take out a sky subscription that the company can call you but it really is bad practice to call every day even after telling them your not interested

This is a good step and I am pleased to report that the number of nuisance calls I get has fallen quite a bit recently to just two or three a week. I am not registered with the TPS as I realised it made little difference. Energy companies don’t seem to give up, however. Scottish Power seems to be the most persistent.

We get a few nuisance calls, often emanating from abroad – typically PPI, telling me there is something wrong with my computer, or that I’ve had an accident (I haven’t) and they can help with my claim. Tactics are: I tell them I’ll go and find the person they want to talk to – this then takes a very long time, so they hang up, or I describe an horrific accident in laborious detail. Childish and maybe ineffective – otherwise I just hang up.

Totally right Malcolm, if they insist on calling have some fun. Depending on my mood and who is in the room I vary my response. “PPI, what’s that then… hang on I’ll just get a pen and paper…well that all sounds interesting, so if you could put that in writing to me, I assume you have my address as you have my name and number without myself permision! Or if they ask for the ‘main housesolder’ I will put one of daughters on. Myself 2 year old loves a good chat!

After repeated calls I also took a great interest in the ‘fault’ on my computer. Asked them lots of questions about the ‘problem I was having’ then I needed to fetch a pen ….
My satisfaction was I was taking up their time, so they couldn’t be bothering someone else. And, they did stop calling.

I kept getting calls from companies asking for me to do a survey when I asked where they had got my number from as I am ex directory they declined to answer I then told them I was signed up to the TPS they replied that it was not a selling call just a survey and did not break any rules.
By now I was getting quite annoyed and said that as they are going to sell the information they received to make money they are selling they then repeated that it was quite right for them to phone me and were not breaking any rules I replied that if they phoned me again I would take them to court and slammed the phone down. I have not received any more calls since

The Telephone Preference Service has helped me a great deal because I used to get unsolicited calls from UK companies. I don’t answer calls from anyone whose number is withheld, but there is an answering machine if anyone needs to leave a message.

What is now annoying me is the number of calls from organisations doing market research. This is perfectly legal. I have no intention of giving any information to these companies and I wish that the authority of the TPS could be extended so that I could elect not to receive the calls.

nicky says:
21 November 2012

I now screen calls as 9 out of 10 are unwelcome: grants for insulation (we have solid walls & a loft conversion so nowhere to insulate), PPI, & pc files apparently corrupt – I tell them I have no internet – I struggle to leave a ringing phone unanswered, but its less stressful than answering a call I don’t want.

A few years ago I had persistent calls from a plastics company which used several different numbers. In the end I bought a trueCall box which sits between the phone line and the phone. This can store a zap list of phone numbers. Every time I get an unwelcome call I put the number in the trueCall zap list. Future calls from those numbers are blocked and never ring the phone. Shouldn’t be necessary to have to pay for this facility but it has been a godsend for the land line. Fortunately the box has several other facilities and has been worth the outlay, for me anyway.

If you have set up a new business, maybe with a new phone number, beware of bullying calls from ‘National Utilities’. There are many of these with similar names but they act on behalf of the electricity generating companies. My step-daughter started her cake business in our newly refurbished ground floor shop, got a new phone number and suddenly was getting calls from ‘National Utilities”. They had assumed that she/we had got a new lease and “when did we get a new contract for commercial electricity?”. I unwittingly gave the first caller too much info but subsequently checked them out with a web search. I then phoned our electricity supplier to affirm that we did not intend to switch from them.
On the second day of having the new number, we had no less than nine separate calls from these companies! Our county Trading Standard officer was informed and further to an email from him, these utility calls have now faded away.

Gordon says:
29 January 2013

These people are a nightmare. They claim to represent our utility supplier but have no idea of any of the details of our account. Their constant calls are harrassment and they will make up any story possible to get more information from you. Tell them nothing. If in any doubt call your supplier on the number on your bill to ask them if there is any problem with your account and then remedy it if there is. National utilities are clutching at straws with the tiniest pieces of information like your address or the name of someone that works in the business that they have found out. The last few days have been like groundhog day with them constantly phoning telling me i’m out of contract when i have in fact agreed all rates and payments with my supplier. I will take direct action against them the next time they call.

Margaret says:
21 November 2012

The telephone preference service worked very well for us but now we are receiving large numbers of international calls particularly at mealtimes. As we have family in the Czech Republic we leave these until the answer phone comes on when they disapear.

Can anything be done about this.

A few weeks ago I emailed the MoJ suggesting they alter the rules that CMCs work under. After getting a nothing reply I rang them up last week. And was told we get thousands of complaints, take it up with your MP. I tried to point out that if everyone who complains was to take it up with their MP each MP would end up with a smattering of complaints and probably not think it a big issue, whereas if everyone complained to the MoJ ( as a single point of contact), then the MoJ should raise it with the minister in charge of them. But alas no joy. It’s about time that regulators woke up and if they’re not doing what they need to do because the legislation needs strengthening then as the regulator it should be their job to do something about it, and not sit idly by doing too little for so long. The same criticism can be levied at the TPS/ICO. Oh and the suggestion I made was no “CMC is allowed to withhold/block or otherwise mask their phone number”. so at least we can report numbers as 95% of nuisance calls I get are number withheld/we do not have the number etc. Until regulators are forced to do a proper job, nothing much will change.

i just get so angry at these companies. Had one phone just now about my sky box insurance about to expire & they can save me money.also they will argue about it when i tell them No it hasen’t & i am with someone else. In fact I have had in one week seven calls!!! Then its credit card debt & loans & morgages i just say which is true no never had a credit card, or loan,& no i do not want them to do anything for me. I have reported some but to no avail, because no number is left but i am asked roughly what time the call was.The TPS/ICO are no help at all.Its just so frustrating. the mobile txts are just the same all spam.I have seen that with certain mobile companys you can forward it to them to deal with. I do have caller id on my home phone but these calls still come through.

Richard says:
23 November 2012


I have a telephone with answering and an outgoing message. This also has loud speak on answering.
My outgoing message is as follows.
Thank you for calling.
Please identify yourself we will pickup if we know who you are.
Please leave a message.
And thank you for calling.
The phone has book and a caller display if a caller who is in the phone book calls their name appears in the caller display so we can pick with out putting them through the third degree.
This has cut down on the number of nuisance calls dramatically in only a couple of months.
This phone was a worthwhile investment of less than forty pounds.
It works for us we hope it does the same for you.
If you phone please identify yourself.

Kind regards.

Troika says:
23 November 2012

How about Ofcom publishing not just the names of offending companies but also the home telephone numbers of their chairmen, company secretaries, financial directors and managing directors? This might change the situation rapidly.

Ash Sansom says:
23 November 2012

I signed up to TPS several years ago and at first the results were good with few nuisance calls. Over the intervening years the number of calls has steadily increased to more than it was before I joined TPS.
I had one minor success with the regular nuisance callers from British Gas. Although I am a customer of this company, I have no reason to believe that the same action will not work for people who are pestered and are not customers.
I received a call from a British Gas representative who told me that I was not on the best tariff. I queried this having done research on the tarrifs available. His answers were misleading and unduly brusque. I questioned him closely on how he could know that I could save money by getting both gas and electricity from British Gas. He reached a point where he could not answer without admitting that he had mislead me and he ended the call.
I complained to British Gas about the call and to cut a long story short, the caller had failed to log the call and had broken several guidelines based on my account of the discussion. The Customer Services representative asked me how she could remedy the situation for me. I asked that I receive no more marketing calls from British Gas. She agreed saying that this was a simple matter.
In the year or so since then British Gas have not called me. Result!

@Ash, Nice result, but did you check the number of the first call you had claiming to be from British Gas. Many companies claim one thing and are often something different. You never know they may not have been from British Gas. It would be nice if no company making calls in or into the UK was allowed to hide/mark or otherwise conceal their number.

Patricia says:
23 November 2012

I have consistently received calls from TalkTalk who took over the company OneTel with whom I have an account. I have no intention of signing up to a new contract with TT as I am perfectly happy with my current deal and do not wish to tie myself into another contract. One of the reasons for my refusal to switch is because the attitude of the sales people has been unbelievably pushy and on one occasion the level of rudeness was such that I decided that I had no intention of ever doing business with them and told them to leave me alone. I subsequently received a call from them about once a month. This has declined in recent months. In contrast, whenever I had to contact OneTel they had usually been pleasant and helpful. (Not sure if any of these people are still employed.)

David says:
23 November 2012

Most of the cold calls that I received say they can put something right with my computer, which I know has nothing wrong with it. They may say something about being trained by Microsoft, which Microsoft will never do. The caller usually has a strong Indian accent, the number identification on the handset says either “INTERNATIONAL Out of Area” or “UNAVAILABLE Out of Area”, and there is no way of tracing the number. I cannot have all such calls blocked, because I have a number of international contacts from whom I do wish to receive calls.

Geoff Sullivan says:
23 November 2012

My concern is International marketing (and silence) calls from India; some know my name. I receive several calls each week. I have contacted the nuisance calls service who say they can do nothing about International calls. I say there should be presssure brought to bear on the Indian Government to close down these nuisance call companies. In addition, have been telephoned 3 times with the Microsoft scam.
I understand that International/silence calls are a problem with many people.

Pleased you are talking this issue, but we are still receiving large numbers of international calls particularly at the evening mealtime. As we have family abroad we are reluctant not to answer. More needs to be done to stop these calls.

Snowdin says:
23 November 2012

I agree international calls early evening, coinciding with the evening meal, are the biggest problem at present. Interesting to see Anglian on the list. They are also sending round people knocking on the door. I recently decided to get an estimate for some work by Anglian. The salesman came and measured up but was only prepared to do a deal with me if I signed there and then. When I said I wanted to get another 2 quotes he withdrew the offer and left, saying manipulatively, “I’m sorry you aren’t interested in doing business with us.” At no time did I say I wasn’t doing business, I simply wanted to exercise a basic right which Anglian clearly do not recognise. I do detest such manipulative behaviour.

@snowdin, “do a deal with me if I signed there and then” I believe that is illegal, but I can’t put my finger on which law it breaks, something about pressure selling.

I joined TPS some years ago, and it made a difference. On the odd occasion I complained to them, they acknowledged my contact and sometimes sent a letter describing the outcome. In the last 18 months or so, the calls have increased considerably – they say they don’t know about TPS, or that they’re not covered by TPS, and TPS have stopped even acknowledgeing complaints.

There is also an increasing number of overseas calls and calls claiming to be market research that are trawling for business.