This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper sets out the regulations which seek to address nuisance calls, including unsolicited sales and marketing calls, and the main ways in which individuals can try to reduce the number of unwanted calls or texts they receive.
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Nuisance calls (i.e. unsolicited and unwanted marketing messages, silent or abandoned calls) and spam texts cause widespread harm and inconvenience as acknowledged by previous and current Governments and the relevant regulators – Ofcom (the communications regulator) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Unsolicited, or cold, marketing calls should not be made to anyone who has indicated a general objection to receiving such calls or has notified the caller that they do not wish to receive such calls.
Recipients of nuisance calls may also complain to their phone companies, some of which have systems to block and identify callers.
Live and automated nuisance calls and text messages
Live and automated nuisance marketing calls are dealt with by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Recipients and potential recipients can avoid live calls by:
- registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) (free of charge); companies can register with the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS);
- checking privacy statements when providing phone numbers; and
- telling organisations they deal with not to market them by phone.
Spam texts are marketing text messages (also known as SMS) sent without the recipients’ consent. Recipients and potential recipients can avoid such texts by:
- not revealing their number;
- checking privacy policies and marketing opt outs carefully; and
- telling organisations not to contact them by text.
Recipients of texts can report them to their network operator, who may be able to prevent further spam from the originating number.
Persistent callers can be reported to the ICO which has powers to fine those who break the law up to £500,000. New legislation came into force on 17 December 2017 which allows directors of companies making nuisance calls to be held personally liable for penalties.
Silent and abandoned calls
Silent and abandoned calls are dealt with by Ofcom. Recipients can avoid calls by:
- identifying the caller through a Calling Line Identification number on telephone displays, and obtaining the callers’ telephone numbers by dialling 1471;
- using details and numbers provided in automated messages to opt-out of receiving further calls.
Makers of repeated abandoned and/or silent calls can be reported to Ofcom which has powers including fining the caller up to £2 million.
ICO and Ofcom joint action plan
The ICO and Ofcom have a joint action plan and have introduced call-blocking and Calling Line Identification directions to communications providers in order to prevent nuisance calls getting through to customers.
Other Government action
The Government made provision in the Digital Economy Act 2017 to require the ICO to publish a statutory code of practice on direct marketing. The code is intended to make it easier for the ICO to take action against nuisance callers, and to impose fines on them.
The Government introduced a ban on cold calling in relation to claims management services through the Financial Claims and Guidance Act 2018 (section 35), except where the receiver has consented to such calls being made to them. The Government has committed to banning cold calling in relation to pensions.