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New rules to clamp down on nuisance calls

Government sets out plans to force direct marketing companies to proactively identify themselves as part of a drive to end nuisance calls

Direct marketing companies may have to legally display their telephone number on caller ID under plans set out by the government to clamp down on nuisance calls.

Forcing companies to identify themselves – instead of hiding by withholding their number – would enable consumers to report unsolicited nuisance calls to the regulators, such as those from accident claims specialists or payment protection insurance scammers.

According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is spearheading the proposed legislation, one in five live and automated direct marketing calls that are reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) did not provide valid caller ID.

Three-quarters of consumers who still own a landline receive unwanted calls in an average month, and nuisance marketers are increasingly targeting mobile numbers, with 72% of people saying they have had at least one such call to their mobile in the space of a month – up nearly 20% in just two years.

DCMS said its proposals would improve consumer choice by making it easier for people to refuse and report nuisance calls, and make it even easier for the ICO to take action.

Companies found to be breaching the law by making nuisance calls are already liable for substantial fines. To date, fines totalling about £2m have been issued.

Last year, fines of £400,000 were levied for nuisance texts, £575,000 for nuisance calls, £130,000 for selling customer records, and £30,000 for nuisance emails.

“There is no simple solution to the problem of nuisance calls, but making direct marketing companies display their telephone number will help consumers and regulators take action,” said Lucy Neville-Rolfe, minister for data protection.

“Mandatory caller ID is just another step we are taking as part of a closely co-ordinated effort with regulators, industry and consumer groups to tackle the problem.”

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  • A proposed change to the law will give the ICO more clout to go after firms that bombard consumers with nuisance calls and texts.
  • The information commissioner reiterates his call for stronger sentences for data theft after a court fined a woman just £1,000 for selling 28,000 customer records.

Richard Lloyd, executive director at consumer rights organisation Which?, which has campaigned extensively around nuisance calls, hailed a victory for consumers.

“Responsible businesses should have nothing to fear from telling people who is calling,” he said. “The government, regulators and businesses need to continue to work together to cut off nuisance calls and make senior executives accountable.”

The organisation’s nuisance calls campaign has been supported by more than 340,000 people so far, and 73,000 have used a nuisance call reporting tool on the Which? website.

Which? claimed that 28% of people said they would be more likely to think of a company positively if it committed to disclosing its identity up-front.

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