Alan Titchmarsh Show / In the News / Legal Topics

Cold calling – Britain starts fighting back

PhoneIn my first weekly appearance on The Alan Titchmarsh Show I joined journalist Fiona Foster to discuss the growing problem of cold calling, especially for the elderly and vulnerable (view below).  New research Which? suggests that in June this year, an estimated 700million nuisance calls were received by people in the UK.  Calls range from live or automated queries about Payment Protection Insurance to loft insulation and potential personal injury claims.  But with 6 out of 10 householders saying that these calls are so bad they no longer want to answer their own phones people need to start fighting back.

There are ways we can each go about tackling nuisance callers, but the bad news is that most of these require some action, some commitment and possibly some cost.  By far, prevention is better than cure.  By ticking (or un-ticking) the ‘can we contact you’ boxes on forms both on and off-line, not providing your home telephone number and being aware of what information you are passing freely to businesses and third parties, you can reduce how much of your personal data is out there.  If you don’t opt out of your name and address appearing on the edited electoral register then local councils can pass on your details to certain parties who request it, including direct marketing companies who may use this information to find your telephone details.

Self-help

Unfortunately, there are some organisations that are committed to targeting you through your home or mobile telephone.  There isn’t one easy solution to stop cold calling completely, but there are things you can do to try and reduce the number of cold calls you get.

Sign up for the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). This is a free service which enables you to opt out of unsolicited live sales and marketing calls by registering your home landline and mobile phone numbers.  It is then a legal requirement for all organisations to not make unsolicited live sales and marketing calls to your number if you are on the list unless you have given your specific consent.  However, TPS will not protect you from scam calls, overseas calls, recorded calls or silent calls.

Ask nicely. When you receive a call, state clearly that you want to be removed from their database and not called again. You may also ask where they got your number from and follow up with the initial provider.

Consult your telephone service provider.  Discuss with them the options to go ex-directory, make use of any call barring service they offer or investigate caller ID and answering services.  Sometimes these services will come with an additional monthly or one-off charge.

Use a call-blocking device.  Although these come at additional expense and can be initially complicated to use, they can be effective for blocking many nuisance calls.  You might need to have caller ID on your phone (which some providers charge for) in order to use a call blocking device.

Complain. If you are registered with TPS and you continue to receive unwanted calls then you can complain to them direct and they will pass your complaint on to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the data protection regulator that can fine organisations up to £500,000.  If you are not registered with TPS you can complain directly to the ICO about unsolicited live and automated calls. If you want to complain about silent or abandoned calls then you should complain to Ofcom.  When you make your complaint you should try to provide as much information as you can about the call including the name and number of the organisation, details about when you have been called by the same number and over what time period. If you are unable to identify the caller then you should contact your phone company as most of them have a nuisance calls team who can give you further advice.  Even if you can’t find out much information, it is still worth making a complaint as it may help Ofcom and the ICO with their investigations.

Turning the tables

There are a number of more extreme examples of how individuals have taken novel approaches to tackling the companies who are making nuisance sales calls.

Lee Beaumont decided to turn the tables on the organisations calling him, but rather than wanting to reduce the number of calls he received, he now encourages them.  Beaumont set up a personal premium rate number and gave this to the companies that called him and asked for his number on marketing and promotional information. He maintains a separate, regular, landline for friends and family, but whenever a call is made to his premium rate number the caller is charged 10p per minute, of which he gets 7p.  Since setting up the number, he has made over £300.

However, despite it being lawful to use a premium number, they aren’t designed to be used by individuals and are subject to strict regulations and consumer protection standards including clearly setting out the cost of each call to any organisation that rings.  The consequences of breaching the regulations can be very serious and result in significant fines .

Richard Herman became so tired of being called by the same marketing company he decided to invoice for the time he spent on the phone taking their calls.  Herman informed the company in advance that he intended to charge £10 per minute if they continued to call. He then tracked them down and invoiced them for £195 for the 19.5 minutes he had spent on the phone.  When the company refused to pay, Herman issued court proceedings and despite denials from the company successfully sued for the debt and court costs.

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