This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
What are nuisance calls?
Nuisance calls are unsolicited and unwanted marketing messages, silent or abandoned calls, and spam texts that cause widespread harm and inconvenience as acknowledged by previous and current Governments.
How can you reduce the number of nuisance calls you receive?
Take care with sharing information
Care should be taken when filling in forms online that ask for personal information, including contact telephone numbers. The terms and conditions may state that providing the information means consenting to receive marketing calls or for the number to be shared with third parties. However, there should be an option to opt out – in particular to sharing with third parties. If consent is granted then a person can be contacted even if their phone number is registered with the TPS (see below). Consent to be contacted can be withdrawn at any time by contacting the relevant company and telling them that you no longer wish to be contacted by phone.
For more information on consent see the Information Commissioner’s Office guidance on Direct Marketing.
Register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)
The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) works by removing a registered number from telephone marketing lists. It is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make unsolicited marketing calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have consent to do so. In practice this means that organisations making direct marketing telephone calls must screen their marketing lists against the list of numbers registered with the TPS.
Both landline and mobile telephone numbers can be registered with the TPS free of charge on the TPS Register website. Alternatively mobile users can text ‘TPS’, followed by their email address to the shortcode 85095 in order to register their number. There is no charge for texts to this shortcode. Phone numbers can also be registered by calling the TPS on 0345 070 0707.
The TPS advises that registration will not reduce the receipt of recorded messages and will not stop all unsolicited sales and marketing calls. If the purpose of the call was to sell a product or a service then registering with the TPS will reduce such calls. However, companies also use automated diallers for activities such as debt collection, market research and it is important to note that the TPS will not reduce these calls.
Other options, including call blocking
Although there are some commercial companies that offer similar services for reducing nuisance calls (and may charge for this), the TPS is the only register that organisations are legally obliged to check against before making live telesales calls.
Phone companies offer a number of services that can help block nuisance calls. Some of these services are free but for some, monthly charges can apply, and may vary depending on what package an individual is signed up to.
- Caller display shows the number of the person calling (if you have a phone with a display) so that the recipient can choose whether to answer or not. All direct marketers should provide a number on which they can be contacted, they are no longer able to withhold their number when making calls.
- Incoming call blocking prevents selected numbers from getting through. Some phones have this technology built in or stand alone call blocking units that plug in between the phone and socket can be purchased. The consumer organisation Which? has a blog post, How to block nuisance calls that outlines some of the available call blocking solutions. Most mobile phones have a feature that allows calls from specific numbers to be blocked.
- Caller identification – or 1471 – can help identify the number of the last caller (unless the caller has withheld their number). Once the number has been obtained it can be reported to the relevant regulator.
What about calls from overseas?
Companies based abroad who call into the UK and who are making calls on behalf of UK based companies, must comply with UK regulations and screen their call lists against the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) before making an unsolicited sales and marketing call to a UK telephone number. However, many overseas companies who telephone the UK on their own account from overseas do so to avoid legal and self regulatory restrictions. Therefore the other options for reducing nuisance calls such as call blocking are likely to be more useful for preventing nuisance calls from overseas.
How to report nuisance callers
Although they cannot investigate all individual cases, concerns about direct marketing calls can be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who enforce regulations governing direct marketing calls.
Silent calls can be reported to Ofcom, the communications regulator. Ofcom’s Abandoned and silent calls webpage provides information on silent calls, what the law is, and how to report them.
Useful online resources
The communications regulator, Ofcom, has a consumer guide about dealing with nuisance calls and sets out its complaints procedure in the guide and on its website.
Which? provides various webpages containing advice on how to stop and report nuisance phone calls:
- I keep getting unwanted calls and text messages, what can I do?
- Top tips to stop cold calls
- Report a call or text
The Library briefing Nuisance Calls: Unsolicited sales and marketing, and silent calls (March 2019) provides further information on nuisance calls and measures to reduce them, including recent Government action on direct marketing and cold calling.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.