Nuisance calls: Crackdown planned

Telephone generic A public consultation will ask if firms which break rules should face fines of up to 20% of their annual turnover

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The government is planning to make it easier to fine firms that hound members of the public with nuisance calls.

Currently, they can be punished only if unsolicited calls cause "substantial damage" to householders.

Ministers will also consult on imposing heftier fines. Some consumer groups say the measures do not go far enough.

The Information Commissioner's Office received 120,310 complaints about "unsolicited marketing calls" from April-November 2013.

Overseas calls

It is illegal for companies to call domestic numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

The Telephone Preference Service

The Telephone Preference Service runs a register that allows people to opt out of any unsolicited sales or marketing calls.

Individuals can register free of charge by visiting the website. Or they can call 0845 070 0707. It takes 28 days for registration to become effective.

Mobile phone numbers can also be registered, although this will not prevent unsolicited text messages.

It is a legal requirement that all organisations - including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties - do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have the individual's consent to do so.

The rules do not apply when people consent to their details being used for marketing purposes.

But BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam said members of the public continued to get unwanted calls - often pre-recorded - despite being registered with the TPS.

That was because not all companies were members of the Direct Marketing Association - the UK telemarketing industry body - some were overseas and some were "good old-fashioned fraudsters" out to steal money, he said.

The problem of unwanted calls may never be fully eradicated, he added.

Repeat offenders include firms inquiring about mis-sold payment protection insurance.

Silent calls

Firms which flout the TPS rules can currently be fined up to £500,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office.

Those which break media regulator Ofcom rules on silent and abandoned calls face fines of up to £2m.

Critics say the system is not working because rules on enforcement are skewed in favour of rogue firms.

Under Culture Secretary Maria Miller's plans, the current "substantial damage" threshold could be lowered.

They would also make it simpler for regulators such as Ofcom, the Insolvency Service and the Information Commissioner's Office to swap data about who the offenders might be.

And the Ministry of Justice will launch a consultation on Monday on whether firms that break the rules should face fines of up to 20% of their annual turnover.

'Unwanted intrusion'

"Nuisance calls must stop," Ms Miller said.

Call centre workers Many calls are made by overseas firms acting for domestic companies

"At best they are an irritation and an unwanted intrusion; at worst they cause real distress and fear, particularly to the elderly or housebound.

"People need to feel safe and secure in their homes.

"The rules are clear - people have the right to choose not to receive unsolicited marketing calls. We will work to ensure their choice is respected."

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd welcomed the plans saying he hoped regulators would now be given "the tools to get rid of the unwanted calls that millions of us are getting bombarded with".

"But we've got to be honest about this - some of this is firms that are operating overseas," he told BBC Radio 5 live.

"The companies in Britain that benefit from those calls have to be held to account for that.

"But it's not going to be possible to turn this off overnight."

'Long battle'

Mr Lloyd, who said a thousand complaints a week were made to Which? about nuisance callers, urged more people to register their phone number with the Telephone Preference Service.

Start Quote

Let's remember the industry employs a million people, many of those in areas of fairly high unemployment, and we want to drive these rogue companies out of this particular field of business"”

End Quote Mike Lordan Direct Marketing Association

"But it's going to be a long battle to keep these rogue companies - that really don't care about the rules - to get them under control and stop these nuisance calls and texts."

Mike Lordan, chief executive of the Direct Marketing Association, said it was unacceptable for people to receive unsolicited phone calls at home if they were registered on the TPS and hadn't given their consent for someone to call them.

He told 5 live the regulations on calls generally covered those made from overseas.

"It affects companies that operate in the UK and, if they use overseas call centres to make calls, the law still applies to them.

"And most of these calls that are being made - these rogue calls - are being made on behalf of companies that are registered in the UK."

He said he regretted "some of the image" associated with his industry but added: "I'd like to stress that it's not our business.

"Our code of practice is very strict."

He said the industry employed a million people, "many of those in areas of fairly high unemployment and we want to drive these rogue companies out of this particular field of business".

Anita White says nuisance calls made her phone "an item of torture"

'Tough action'

Start Quote

Stop mucking about with arguments about what is and what isn't consent and stop giving all the power to these half-baked regulators”

End Quote Fair Telecoms

Under the new rules, claims management companies (CMCs) could also face punishment if they buy leads generated by other firms which bombard customers with unwanted cold calls.

CMCs advertise widely on TV, in newspapers and on the internet, encouraging people to sue for personal injury compensation and for other losses.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "The Claims Management Regulator already takes tough action against companies which break the rules, suspending and closing down rogue firms, but now these fines will give us an extra weapon to drive bad behaviour out of the industry."

In December, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee said watchdogs should use their powers more often to punish misuse of phone networks and contact information.

It found that a significant cause of nuisance calls was the unfair or even illegal use of personal data.

This included obtaining a person's "consent" to receive unsolicited marketing calls in ways that were "at best opaque and at worst dishonest" and trading personal details with companies which were "lacking in scruples".

The Fair Telecoms campaign group said the plans did not go far enough in dealing with the distress caused by constant nuisance calls.

"Stop mucking about with arguments about what is and what isn't consent and stop giving all the power to these half-baked regulators," the group's David Hickson said.

In April 2013, telecoms operator TalkTalk was fined £750,000 by Ofcom for making an excessive number of abandoned and silent calls during a telemarketing campaign to attract new subscribers.

TalkTalk said it had terminated its relationship with two call centres used when the problem was discovered.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    I had one yesterday that opened with "I have been told that your wife has been involved in a car accident"
    This rather took my breath away for a minute until I realised it was a fishing exercise from some Liverpudlian chancer.
    I am Ex Directory and on TPS for 5 years and they knew her and my name.
    Going to ditch the phone - everyone that knows me uses my mobile anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    I finally got rid of my home landline because I realised that my monthly rental got me roughly ten times as many cold-calls as bona fide calls (really!). This, despite being registered with TPS.

    The problem, unfortunately, is not the legitimate companies, but those willing to break the law and often hide their identities behind VOIP, number-withheld or fake numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Telemarkters are fine people, performing an essential role. I hold them in higher regard than NHS staff. When a telemarketer doesn't do a good job, they get fired. Unlike the others mentioned.

    When someone takes the time to call you at your own home, they're often offering amazing deals, which poor folks need. You should be grateful, and buy their wares. It's not a nuisance, it's a blessing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I am sick of these types of calls and personally receive two or three a day. I actively opt-out of anything where it is sated that I may be contacted yet they call me anyway. Also the number of PPI claims companies that call is staggering! Unless I know the caller I no longer answer my phone hoping that any genuine callers from an u known number leave me a message to call back. Sad times!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    I am registered with them too and I still get these phone calls so it does not work for me at all it even lets calls through that are not generated lots of international calls too about 4 every day


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