Nuisance calls. The clue is in the name. But for a lot of people they’re more than a nuisance. For some, particularly the elderly and people living alone, the calls – especially when there’s no one on the end of the line – can be unsettling, frightening, or worse.
So a few weeks ago, the DCMS published a short and sharp consultation process around the idea that we should lower or preferably remove the legal threshold before firms doing it could be hit with fines of up to £500,000. How? By lowering or removing the legal threshold that requires there to be ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ caused to the person taking the call before anything can be done about it.
To help get things moving on measures to tackle nuisance calls and the problem of consent sometimes being unwittingly given to future callers, I asked Which? to set up and steer a taskforce looking at ‘consent’ and ‘lead generation’ in the direct marketing industry. And that’s what they did, bringing together regulators, people from the industry and – most importantly – consumers, to help control and reduce these unwanted calls and texts.
In the meantime, though, progress has been made. In July this year we made it easier for Ofcom to share information with the ICO in respect of companies breaking the regulations, which will help in ICO’s efforts to take more action. Also, we will be making it a requirement for marketing callers to reveal their ‘Caller Line Identification’(CLI) – or telephone number, to put it simply – when they call, so that the householder can see the number of the caller displayed on their handset, these are but two helpful changes.
More bluntly, we are also looking at ways of blocking calls at network level, and so preventing them from ever reaching the consumer. Some solutions depend on finding technological answers, while for others it is no more than giving the victims of the ‘nuisance’ better tools to report it, and the regulators stronger powers to impose penalties that will genuinely hurt which, I’m pleased to report, is just what we have done.
These things are a good start, and are starting to make a difference. The report from the taskforce – headed up by Which? to whom we are grateful to – suggests more and different ways of tackling the problem.
The point is that the Government takes this matter very seriously indeed. There’s some evidence that the scale of the problem is reducing, and responsible well-established businesses know that nuisance calling is very bad for their hard-won reputations. But some fly-by-night outfits simply don’t care what potential customers think of them. It’s up to the rest of us to stop them carrying on, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy
A version of the blog also appeared on Which? Conversation on Monday 8 December