Government must call time on nuisance calls and texts

As new Which? research finds that the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is failing to cut off nuisance calls and regulators confirm they need more powers to sort out their piecemeal approach, we tell the Government it’s time to step in and get a grip on nuisance calls and texts.

Registering with the TPS is the top action people take to reduce unwanted calls, however our new research shows that people registered with TPS still received, on average, double the average number of unsolicited calls than those not signed up. While people registered with the TPS report a decrease in nuisance calls after signing up, they received on average 10 unsolicited calls in the last month. This compares to five on average for those who have not signed up. Around six in 10 (57%) people registered with the TPS are not satisfied with the service.

The scale of the nuisance calls problem is laid bare as we find that around eight in ten (85%) people received an unsolicited call in the last month, of these a staggering one in 10 (8%) people received 50 unwanted calls or more in the last month. Six in 10 (62%) people received calls about Payment Protection Insurance and half (48%) from accident claim companies.

The Which? Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign asked the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Ministry of Justice, Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading to form a joint taskforce within 12 weeks to stop unwanted calls and texts. Time is up and while we have seen some progress and coordinated action, we need to see a new tougher approach, led by the Government, to deal with the scale of this problem.

Today we are demanding that the Government steps in to strengthen the law on consent and the use of personal data, to give regulators more powers to enforce the law, and to work with industry to provide technical fixes to filter out unwanted calls and texts.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“Consumers are sick and tired of being bombarded with nuisance calls and texts. The current system is failing the public and given the scale of this problem, it’s time for the Government to step in. We urgently need to see a new approach, new laws and new technology to tackle this scourge on people’s lives. People must be put back in control of their personal data.”

We are calling on people to pledge their support for our Calling Time campaign.

The Government should give regulators the power to properly police and punish the industry, to send a clear message that unlawful practices won’t be tolerated.

Consumers are often targeted with nuisance calls because at some point they ‘ticked the box’ giving consent to companies not only to contact them but also to pass on their personal data to third parties. The Government must tackle this trading of data and put consumers back in control.

We want the Government to introduce:

• An expiry date on third party consent, where a person consents to be contacted by ‘selected third parties’ for marketing purposes, so it can only last for a set amount of time. The Government should consult on whether there are justifiable reasons for it to be more than a year.

• An obligation on businesses to demonstrate to the Information Commissioner (ICO) that a consumer gave consent. This would reverse the current situation where the ICO has to prove that the company did not have consent.

We want increased powers for the regulators by:

• Extending the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) which governs electronic marketing to include firms selling on personal data, not just those that conduct direct marketing.

• Lowering the threshold for the ICO under PECR to take enforcement action so that they do not have to find evidence of harm, and only need to prove a company breached the rules.

• Strengthening enforcement action against companies who call people registered with the TPS, and make it clear that companies cannot call someone if they gave consent via a third party.

We want the Government to work with industry to:

• Require businesses to send their Caller ID so people can see a company’s telephone number and therefore report nuisance calls to regulators.

• Provide spam filtering technology on mobiles to stop unwanted texts.

• Develop a short-code that consumers can dial after receiving an unwanted call that transmits information to the regulators and network operators.

We want regulators to publish information about all enforcement action they are taking to serve as a deterrent to the industry and so that consumers can see their complaints are being acted upon.

Which? is also lobbying for a Private Member’s Bill (Communications Bill on Reducing Unwanted Telephone Calls and Texts) to raise this issue in Parliament.


Notes to editors:

1. Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a representative sample of 2,070 UK adults between 19th and 21st April 2013, of these 1,827 had a landline. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

2. The TPS is a free, national, opt-out service for consumers who do not wish to receive telemarketing calls. All UK companies making live marketing calls, except market research companies, are legally required to screen call lists against the TPS list to ensure subscribers are not contacted.

3. Which? launched the Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign in March 2013. We have received 30,000 votes of support from consumers so far.

4. The Which? Calling Time roadshow is currently touring the country inviting consumers to express their frustration with nuisance calls and texts. The roadshow, in Manchester today, has already been to Milton Keynes and will also visit Cardiff, Glasgow and London throughout June.

5. Over half (54%) of people with an active registration with the TPS reported a decrease in the number of calls they received. However, they still receive more than people who are not signed up. This could be because they received a high proportion of nuisance calls in the first place. All of the TPS related figures quoted are for people with an active registration with the TPS.

6. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) govern marketing, specifically for companies who are sending marketing and advertising by telephone, fax, email, text message and picture (including video) message and by using an automated calling system.

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