Say no to nuisance calls
Nuisance callers are an added irritant for most of us, but for many elderly or alone people, they can be quite intimidating. Jeff Prestridge looks at what can be done.
Nuisance calls - and to a lesser degree - nuisance texts are the bane of my life. Rarely a day goes by without someone irritatingly trying to contact me on my mobile promising me the land of milk and honey in the form of a juicy payment protection insurance (PPI) compensation cheque that they assure me is waiting to be sent.
I usually smile to myself because I've never once bought that dreadful insurance, so I know for a fact the caller's claim is a bogus one. Nice try, Mr Nuisance, but you can't fool me.
The calls, usually in the form of a recorded message, and the texts keep coming – at all hours and all days, come rain or come shine. If it's not PPI compensation that I have failed to snap up, it's a personal injury claim that I should be making for the car accidents I've just been involved in.
Judging by the number of calls I receive, I've recently been involved in a lot of accidents, despite the fact that my car has rarely left its underground garage in London's Docklands (I prefer to travel by Boris Bike). Strange that, isn't it?
Sometimes I miss the calls and ring back – hoping it is a long-lost friend – only to be met with a recorded message politely informing me that the call was of a sales and marketing nature. It is all very frustrating and not very good for the blood pressure.
I consider myself a borderline savvy consumer, so I don't really let these nuisance callers get me down. And if I do manage to pick up the call and there is actually someone at the end of the line trying to sell me something (double glazing or the latest whizz-bang energy package), I usually give them short shrift. Letting off steam in such a way can be quite cathartic, especially after a hard day at work.
But there are many people – especially among the elderly and those living alone – who get intimidated by such nuisance calls. Sometimes they get bullied into buying products that are not in their best interests. Sometimes they get their hopes falsely raised (for example, if they think they are due compensation when in fact they are not).
Worryingly, some get scared, especially if they are victims of a so-called silent call – where an organisation tries to contact you but a call- centre worker is not immediately on hand to speak, leaving you to be met with nothing but a wall of silence. For the elderly, such calls can lead to sleepless nights.
Is anything being done to stop these nuisance calls? Well, the answer is yes, but it's all happening rather slowly, not helped by the fact that the regulation of nuisance calls falls under the watchful eye of various regulators – primarily Ofcom (the regulator for the communications industry) and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
Ofcom seems to be leading the way. In the past year, it has issued fines against TalkTalk (£750,000), npower (£60,000) and HomeServe (£750,000) for making excessive silent and abandoned calls.The ICO, responsible for regulating live marketing calls, has been somewhat tamer, issuing just one fine, but it has said further fines are on the way.
Thankfully, and not before time, the regulators now seem to be working together. Earlier this year, Ofcom published an action plan designed to tackle the blight of nuisance calls. Under the plan, more fines have been threatened, more co-ordinated action from the two regulators has been promised and more resources put into tracking down the perpetrators of nuisance calls.
In the meantime, those of you who don't like receiving them should take action of your own. Register your telephone number (landline and mobile) with the Telephone Preference Service (tpsonline.org.uk).This free service should stop calls from any British-based telesales and marketing firms.
Also, BT,TrueCall and CallBlocker have all launched services designed to block nuisance calls. They're not free (apart from BT's ‘privacy at home' deal) but they do provide comfort.
Ofcom has also published a consumer guide on nuisance calls and messages, available at consumers.ofcom.org.uk.
Between us, let's make Britain nuisance-call free.
Jeff Prestridge is editor of Financial Mail on Sunday personal finance. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Payment protection insurance is designed to cover you should you fall ill, have an accident or lose your job and can’t make repayments on loans or credit cards. However, research by consumer watchdogs found the cover to be overpriced, filled with exclusions (policies exclude self-employment, contract employees and pre-existing medical conditions) and were often mis-sold because the exclusions were never fully explained. In May 2011, the High Court ruled banks had knowingly mis-sold PPI and ordered them to compensate around two million consumers.