Complaints about nuisance calls treble

PPI and accident claims firms blamed for huge rise in numbers of nuisance marketing phone calls

Complaints about unwanted marketing calls have trebled to almost 10,000 a month since the beginning of 2012 thanks to a huge surge in activity by PPI and accident claim firms.

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom said that in July alone 9,803 complaints about unsolicited marketing calls were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), the official central opt-out register on which householders can record their preference not to receive such calls. This compares with 3,212 complaints in December 2011.

“The problem [with such calls] is a growing issue and can be partly attributed to an increase in the aggressive marketing practices of PPI and accident claims firms,” said an Ofcom spokeswoman.

The number of people who have complained to the telecoms watchdog about silent or abandoned calls has also trebled to more than 3,000 a month since the beginning of the year.

Silent calls have become an increasing cause of nuisance and alarm, particularly for older people. They occur when automatic dialer systems used by call centres make more calls than they have people to take them. If there is no one available to take an answered call it is automatically dropped; the consumer will hear nothing before being cut off.

Under Ofcom’s rules the number of abandoned calls companies make to consumers each day is not allowed to exceed 3% of the total live calls made on that day.

In January 2012 1,132 complaints about such calls were made to Ofcom, a figure little changed from six months earlier. However, since then complaints have rocketed, reaching 3,390 in July.

In April Ofcom fined home insurance and repairs firm HomeServe £750,000 for making excessive numbers of silent and abandoned calls.

At the time Claudio Pollock, Ofcom’s consumer director, said: “We hope the fine will send a strong message to all companies that use call centres that they need to ensure they are fully compliant with the rules or face the consequences.”

The number of complaints suggests that the problem of silent calls is growing, although Ofcom attributes much of the rise to changes in the way it has collated its data over the last few months and a growing awareness by householders about how to complain.

Ofcom can take enforcement action against companies making silent calls and is currently investigating two, npower and TalkTalk. Complaints about receiving abandoned and/or silent calls can be registered on its website.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is responsible for taking enforcement action where a company makes marketing calls to a person who is registered with the TPS and has not given prior consent to receive such calls.Consumers can complain directly to the ICO on its website.

For a complaint to be recorded by the TPS, the person making the complaint must have been registered with it for at least 28 days.

“The real problem is that companies are prepared to break the law because the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is responsible for enforcing the law, hasn’t been flexing its muscles. As a result there’s no real deterrent for wrong-doers,” said a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, which runs the TPS.

Jo Connell, chair of the Communications Consumer Panel, which highlights consumer issues to Ofcom, said the steep rise in the number of complaints to the TPS was of “serious concern”.

“We encourage Ofcom, the Information Commissioner and TPS to strengthen their co-operative efforts and take action to reduce the incidence of unwanted calls,” she said. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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