In recent months, the issue of nuisance calls has been raised by an increasing number of constituents and I spoke in a Scottish Parliament debate on this matter only last week.
Almost all of us will at one time have had to deal with a nuisance call – perhaps an automated message from a telemarketing firm, or a scam company contacting you about an accident you’re certain you never had or a win on a lottery for which you did not buy a ticket.
More often than not these are a minor irritant and we end the call quickly. Some people do the opposite. A friend once feigned interest in a conservatory before explaining, 15 minutes into the call that he lived on the sixth floor of a block of flats.
However, for many people, nuisance calls are relentless and distressing. Richard Lloyd, Executive Director of Which? recently said that nuisance calls were a "scourge on people's lives” and research has shown that six out of ten householders say nuisance calls are so bad that they no longer want to answer the telephone.
Nuisance calls are certainly on the rise and just prior to writing this, I received an automated text claiming I could miss out on claiming Payment Protect Insurance unless I called a premium rate number within the next few days. Well aware that this was a scam of some sort, I declined their invitation to call back. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the tricks employed by such callers and are at serious risk of having their personal information compromised or stolen.
This matter is reserved to Westminster and in 2003 the UK Government gave the Office of Communications (Ofcom) powers to deal with nuisance calls. Currently the Information Commissioner and Ofcom can fine companies for breaching the rules. In April 2013 TalkTalk was fined £750,000 for making around 9,000 abandoned or silent calls and just last week, Glasgow-based green energy company Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd was fined £200,000. Sadly these heavy fines are not a sufficient deterrent and more must be done.
Currently, a consumer should be taken off a calling list by including their number on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Undeterred, some companies have found loopholes to contact consumers, and few penalties have been imposed on businesses contacting those on the TPS list. Which? has therefore launched a campaign to introduce a mandatory Caller Line Identification (CLI) for all marketing calls. This will provide constituents with a key piece of information when reporting an unwanted caller or contacting a company to seek removal from their database. Furthermore, they recommend that senior executives are “held accountable by law for their company's nuisance calls.”
Patricia Gibson MP has written to Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, John Whittingdale MP, about this very matter, and is trying to secure an adjournment debate to ensure that the UK Government takes more action to tackle this problem. In the meantime, there are options available to help reduce the number of calls received.
Firstly, people should always be careful to whom they give their details and take care to ensure they don’t give permission for companies to pass their details on to a third party.
Secondly, North Ayrshire Council’s Trading Standards recently trialled a number of call blocking machines with constituents who have been victims of telephone scams. The system has stopped over 95% of unwanted calls. For more information about obtaining one of these devices, I urge readers call Trading Standards on 01294 310 100.