Combating nuisance calls

29 September 2017

Nuisance calls have been a key priority area in the Panel’s Workplan (PDF 365KB, opens in a new window). Taking the form of unsolicited and unwanted sales calls and messages; silent or abandoned calls – they are a major cause of consumer irritation, anxiety and distress.

Nuisance calls can also cause micro businesses to waste valuable resources, and for vulnerable consumers they can cause considerable distress and anxiety.

In 2015, Ofcom estimated that each year UK consumers receive around 4.8 billion nuisance calls: 1.7 billion live sales calls; 1.5 billion silent calls; 940 million recorded sales messages; 200 million abandoned calls, and they estimate the harm caused by nuisance calls to just landlines to be £406m/year.¹

Over the past few years, we have worked closely with a range of stakeholders and have seen some tangible progress in this area, for example, the DCMS Nuisance Calls Action Plan, the lowering of the Information Commissioner's Office’s (ICO) threshold for enforcing the regulations and the amendment of the legislation to make it easier to exchange information between Ofcom and the ICO. We welcomed some providers’ moves to block nuisance calls at a network level.  

But this week we saw some real progress made when Ofcom announced some significant changes to its General Conditions of Entitlement-  these are the rules which UK communications providers must adhere to.   The changes included some that ban providers from charging extra for caller display facilities, which can help people to screen nuisance calls. The new rules confirm that telephone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, dialable and uniquely identify the caller. Providers will also be required, where technically feasible, to identify and block calls with an invalid or non-dialable number – a feature of many nuisance calls – so they don’t get through to consumers. We warmly welcome these steps and hope this will go some way to reduce the number of nuisance calls.

Research shows nuisance calls are a bigger problem in Scotland than they are elsewhere in the UK.  Out of the top five cities in the UK receiving the highest percentages of nuisance calls, three are Scottish². The Scottish government’s Nuisance Calls Commission brought regulators, consumer groups, government officials and business representatives together – including the Panel - to come up with practical solutions. The resultant government Response to Scotland’s Nuisance Calls Commission Action Plan breaks its actions into three areas: empowering and protecting individuals; encouraging better business behaviour; and improving government and public agency responses.

There are also some actions consumers can take to help avoid nuisance calls. You can opt out of receiving unsolicited calls - for free - by registering your number with the Telephone Preference Service. This will list your number (mobile or landline) as not wanting to receive sales and marketing calls: it is illegal for companies to call numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service. You can also register by phone on 0345 070 0707. Mobile phone users can add their number to the TPS register by texting ‘TPS’ and their email address to 85095.

You can also ask your phone provider if they have a service to block some numbers, or you can install a call blocking device on your phone yourself. Ofcom have helpful information on this and other ways to tackle nuisance calls on their website.

Perhaps the most proactive way is to be wary of sharing your number. Look carefully for the opt in and opt out boxes on forms or marketing materials – sometimes these options can be hidden in the small print at the bottom and some marketeers even combine opt in and opt out options, which can confuse the user.



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