Telemarketers face clampdown after complaints spike

Regulators are gearing up for a clampdown on rogue telemarketers after fresh data showed complaints about unwanted marketing calls more than doubled in the last 12 months.


The number of calls made to self-regulatory body the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) about unsolicited cold calls hit 9,803 in July, a 147% increase on the 3,958 received a year earlier, according to figures from telecoms watchdog Ofcom.

About 17.9 million are registered with the TPS to prevent receiving unsolicited calls. The service is run by the Direct Marketing Association under license from Ofcom but is enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The ICO came under fire in a BBC Panorama show earlier this year after it was found to have taken no action against any company despite being handed the power to do so last year.

The ICO has expanded the enforcement team setup to enforce the additional powers to fine offenders up to £500,000 handed to it by the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations directive last year. The team will also investigate breaches of rules on spam texting and emailing as well as contravention of EU rules on the use of cookies.

An “Intelligence Hub” to support the team has been setup, while its website has received 26,000 reports of marketing texts or calls from unidentified senders.

A spokesman for the ICO says clamping down on unsolicited calls is a “priority issue”. He adds that the first action taken against telemarketers is likely in the autumn.

“The ICO has also executed search warrants at a number of sites across the UK……We have a number of ongoing investigations and we believe we will be in a position to announce a significant and positive update on this work in the autumn.”

A spokesman for the DMA says a spike in calls made by PPI and accident claims companies partly explain the increase in complaints to the TPS, which has seen 700,000 new registrants in the first half of the year.

He adds that until action is taken, companies will continue to break the law. “The laws and powers are in place to protect consumers and telemarketers that abide by the law, but without enforcement they do not act as a deterrent to wrong-doers.”

Elsewhere, complaints made about silent or abandoned calls shot up by 174 per cent year on year, according to the Ofcom data.

A spokeswoman for the watchdog, which has regulatory oversight of the area, adds that the increase was partly because of an administrative change that means it now publishes complaints previously recorded by the TPS. She adds, however, that tackling silent calls, which happen when a company’s automated calling systems dials more numbers than there is staff available to answer the phone, is a “high on the agenda”.

It fined insurance firm HomeServe £750,000 for making excessive silent calls in April. Investigations into the practices of Npower and TalkTalk are ongoing.

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