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Sick of cold-calls? You’re not alone. More than 280,000 complaints about cold calling were made to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) last year - 11 per cent more than in 2014.
However, there is hope for those plagued by nuisance calls from unknown numbers. Following a government consultation, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is hoping to force cold-callers to display their number when calling consumers.
The new requirement, which is expected to be made law in the spring, would help recipients choose whether to answer the phone, and make it easier to file a formal complaint against unwanted callers.
Consumers already have the right to opt-out of receiving cold calls by adding their number to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) ‘do not call’ list, operated by the UK's Direct Marketing Association.
However, checking whether a phone number is on the TPS list is costly and inconvenient, deterring many companies from consulting the list prior to calling consumers.
Left with few ways of putting a stop to these unwanted calls, annoyed customers are increasingly installing call blocker apps that check callers' numbers against blacklists of known cold-callers. Some consumers are turning to hardware devices, such as trueCall, that weed out nuisance callers.
But around one in five direct marketing calls reported to the ICO is made from an anonymous or unknown number, making it even harder to detect and block cold calls.
Calls from unknown numbers are not only a nuisance for the recipient, they also make it harder for the ICO to take action following a complaint, allowing some firms to pester hundreds of thousands of consumers, without fear of repercussions.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Minister for data protection said she hopes that forcing direct marketing companies to display their number will help regulators, such as ICO, prosecute the worst offenders.
“Being pestered by marketing calls is annoying at the best of times and at its worst it can bring real misery for the people on the receiving end,” she said.
“Companies are already being financially punished when they blatantly flout the rules, and mandatory caller ID is just another step we are taking as part of a closely coordinated effort with regulators, industry and consumer groups to tackle the problem.”
However, while the proposed changes may be a step in the right direction, cold-calls are unlikely to stop any time soon. Not only will many firms ignore the legislation, but foreign telemarketing companies calling UK numbers will have no obligation to abide by the new rules.
Meanwhile, telecoms regulator Ofcom has vowed to crack down on companies generating silent and abandoned calls, launching a consultation on how it should use its existing powers to punish this ‘persistent misuse’ of the phone system.
With both the DCMS and Ofcom's consultations set to end soon, it is essential that UK companies take measures to make sure they're not caught out by the new rules.
Organisations that make direct marketing calls will need to ensure their phone system presents an appropriate phone number when direct marketing calls are made. This doesn't have to be the number of the caller - a non-premium rate number that can be used to return a call will suffice. It is, however, important that the caller has the authority to use the phone number that's shown to call recipients.
Anyone looking to have their say on the new rules will need to act swiftly. Ofcom's consultation on 'persistent misuse' ends on February 10th 2016. The Government's consultation on whether to ban anonymous cold-calls to consumers will close on February 23rd 2016.