The heat is on telemarketers

Upon visiting parents and in-laws weekend last, it was laid bare to me that the scourge of every man and woman in the UK is not among the usual suspects trotted out by middle market newspapers. No, it is the horror of the unsolicited and definitely unwanted stone cold telephone marketing call.

Russell Parsons

Seldom exposed, I was blissfully ignorant of this creeping and seemingly pervasive menace. The telemarketer working their way through a list of what are nominally prospects is a relic of a bygone age, isn’t it? Not so, was the rather apoplectic response from family members.

It seems that they are not alone.

On arriving back in the office I was presented with fresh data from Ofcom that showed that 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.

Elsewhere, complaints made about silent or abandoned calls shot up by 174 per cent year on year.

Now, given that neither of the family members I spoke with about this issue had registered with the TPS – or, indeed, had any intention to – I suspect the numbers published by Ofcom are just the tip of a very large iceberg. An iceberg, if I could continue with the metaphor, likely to sink the telemarketing ship unless avoided.

It is not too much of a leap into the realm of possibility by me to wager that many of the disgruntled take an opportunity to complain not just to the self-regulatory and regulatory bodies – TPS, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom – that have jurisdiction but to their elected representatives.

There’s nothing that a member of parliament likes more than dealing with a nuts and bolts issue that plays well with ordinary Joes and Janes. Getting to grips with nuisance telemarketers ticks all the requisite boxes.

Against an economic environment that makes it very difficult for the Government to be anything other than unpopular, coalition ministers will be looking to score points with disgruntled constituents by taking action in areas they can.

This in mind, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ICO, responsible for enforcing telemarketing miscreants, hasn’t come under some pressure to announce a few scalps and soon.

The watchdog is “to announce a significant and positive update” on some of its “ongoing investigations” this autumn, a spokesman told me. Expect as much PR as the ICO can afford, crammed with apocalyptic warnings from the information minister and a DCMS minister about how the noose is tightening in a bid to discourage those on the edge of laws to cease or amend practices.

It mustn’t stop there. The ICO has the power to act and fine up to half a million pounds, handed to it by the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations directive last year. The more action it takes, the more rogue operators will take note.

Ministers demand it, the public demands it, my mum demands it.

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There are 19 awards to enter and the deadline for entry is Tuesday 9th October 2012. Gongs will be handed out on Thursday 7th February 2013 at the Lancaster London.

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