New advice for consumers on preventing nuisance calls

23 May 2014

  • New video and 'Easy Read' consumer guides launched today
  • PPI-related calls down but nuisance calls persist

Consumers now have easier access to information about preventing and dealing with nuisance calls and messages, following the launch of new consumer guides from Ofcom.

The first guide is a short online educational video that offers tips and advice on nuisance calls. It is available with subtitles to help people with hearing impairments.

The second guide provides advice on preventing nuisance calls in an 'Easy Read' format, designed to be easily understood by people with learning disabilities.

Easy Read presents information clearly and simply, using pictures to support the meaning of the text. It can also be helpful for those with a limited knowledge of the English language.

The new guides are part of Ofcom's work to help ensure consumer information about nuisance calls and messages is accessible to a wide audience. Recent Ofcom research revealed that a third (32%) of consumers were unsure of where to get advice on preventing nuisance calls.

A number of organisations including Age UK, Citizens Advice, Mencap, StepChange, Which?, Helplines Partnership and the Communications Consumer Panel are helping to promote the guides.

Lorainne Bellamy at Mencap, who has a learning disability, said: "Ofcom's Easy Read guide on nuisance calls will be really important for people with a learning disability.

"Nuisance sales calls are hard to understand and some of them ask for very personal information, which worries me. I am glad Ofcom is offering help to people with a learning disability to understand clearly how to deal with these calls."

Measuring the problem

The launch of the guides comes as Ofcom publishes findings from its second annual study into the problem of nuisance calls.

It found the proportion of nuisance calls relating to payment protection insurance (PPI) has reduced significantly over the past year. PPI now accounts for 13% of all nuisance calls where the product or service could be identified - down from 22% in 2013 - although it remains the most common type of unwanted call.

There have, however, been increases in calls about home or loft insulation (2% to 8%), solar panels (2% to 6%) and other products related to home improvements (3% to 7%). The study also found that the number of research participants experiencing unwanted calls, and the average number received, remained broadly unchanged year on year.

Four in five participants (84%) received at least one unwanted call during the four-week research period, while the average total number of unwanted calls received was 8.7 per person (or around two per week). Other key findings included:

  • The most prevalent types of nuisance calls were live marketing calls (38% of all nuisance calls received), followed by silent calls (37%) and recorded sales calls (12%).
  • There has been a decline in the proportion of recorded sales calls (14% to 12%) and abandoned calls (4% to 3%) year on year. The proportion of live marketing calls was consistent with last year, while the proportion of silent calls increased (34% to 37%).
  • Participants were able to identify the name of the company calling in around one in five nuisance calls (19%) and the telephone number in 36%.
  • The majority of unwanted calls were considered 'annoying' (81%), which was down on 2013 (86%). There has also been a decline in the proportion of calls considered 'distressing' (9% to 6%), and an increase in those not seen as a problem (7% to 12%).

Tackling the problem

Tackling nuisance calls and messages is a complex and challenging issue, requiring a coordinated effort from Government, regulators, industry and consumer groups.

Ofcom has a joint action plan with the Information Commissioner's Office, setting out priority areas of work for both organisations. As well as improving consumer information, Ofcom is also making progress in the key areas of enforcement and tracking down companies behind nuisance calls.

Targeted enforcement action

Ofcom continues to pursue a number of companies suspected of making silent and abandoned calls. Most recently, an investigation was opened into Ageas 50 Limited, trading as RIAS and Castle Cover.

In the first quarter of this year, Ofcom has also taken informal action against 20 companies. As a result, complaints about telephone numbers used by nine of these have stopped, while complaints have fallen significantly for four. Ofcom continues to gather evidence in seven cases, which may lead to formal investigations.

Ofcom is also reviewing its silent and abandoned calls guidelines. The review will explore whether there is scope for strengthening these and will look at any relevant developments in call centres' practices and technology.

Tracking down the companies behind nuisance calls

Tracing companies responsible for nuisance calls can be challenging, especially when they hide their identity by causing a false phone number to display - a practice called 'number spoofing'.

Ofcom has therefore been working with an industry standards setting body (NICC) on a new call tracing standard that will make it easier to track down companies behind nuisance calls. Following successful testing, the standard will now be put into practice by industry and Ofcom.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer Group Director, said: "Empowering as many consumers as possible with the knowledge to help protect themselves against nuisance calls and messages is a key priority for Ofcom.

"Our latest research helps us better understand the root causes of nuisance calls and tackle the problem more effectively. While progress is being made, we are under no illusions that there is still more work to do. Together with Government, other regulators, consumer groups and charities, we're exploring all possible ways of better protecting consumers".

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Ofcom is the first UK regulator to publish 'Easy Read' consumer advice. Ofcom has previously published a guide to using a mobile phone in 'Easy Read' format

2. GfK NOP conducted a study on Ofcom's behalf among a UK nationally representative sample of 926 people with home landline phones. Research participants were asked to keep a diary to record all calls they considered to be 'unwanted' on their home landline phones across a four-week period (13 January to 9 February 2014). While participants may have classed certain calls as 'unwanted', they may in some cases have given prior marketing consent for such calls to be made. As such, it does not necessarily follow that all calls recorded during the research were illegitimate or in breach of any laws or regulations in this area.

3. Top ten categories of products or services most commonly promoted during calls that research participants described as unwanted (where identifiable).

Reason for callPercentage of identified calls*
PPI claims13%
Insurance9%
Home/loft insulation8%
Market research8%
Home improvements i.e. kitchen/windows7%
Energy7%
Solar panels6%
Phone/broadband5%
Financial services/products5%
Accident claims/compensation4%

*The remaining 28% includes computer maintenance or support, charities, debt collection or repayment, pension rebate or refunds.

4. Participants in the research were asked to state whether each of the nuisance calls they received was 'annoying', 'distressing', 'useful' or 'not a problem'.

5. The Network Interoperability Consultative Committee (NICC) is a technical forum for the UK communications sector that develops standards for public communications networks and services.