In a report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, a cross party group of MPs headed by John Whittingdale, it is recommended telecom brands offer customers a “wide range of technical options” in standard packages at no additional cost.
BT’s decision to charge £1.75 for caller display unless customers take a 12-month contract was singled out for criticism. The report says: “We find BT’s justification for charging for caller display totally unconvincing and ask them to reconsider. Other communications companies who charge their customers for a similar facility should likewise consider providing this free of charge.”
A BT Spokesperson insisted “there are no upfront charges” for caller display and that it is promoting the service to make sure anyone that wants it knows about it.
Elsewhere, the report, which follows a series of hearings in the summer and the receipt of written evidence, also calls on the Government to ban telemarketers from withholding numbers in order for rogue practitioners to more easily be reported to regulators. It also calls on customers not to buy from companies that do not use an identifiable phone number.
A “one-stop shop” for people to complain about nuisance callers should be setup, the report adds. Currently, misuse of data is handled by the Information Commissioner’s Office while complaints about silent or abandoned calls fall under Ofcom’s remit but the Committee wants to see a single online form and helpline introduced to field calls which will be then passed to the ICO or Ofcom. The move would provide a “customer facing” approach that “existing reporting mechanisms have failed so far to provide.”
The Committee’s recommendations echo many of those made by a separate group of MPs in October. The All-Party Parliamentary Group also called on the Government to legislate to make sure caller identification is provided to consumers free of charge on all marketing calls.
The report also comes ahead of a Government consultation, expected early in the New Year, into nuisance calls. It is expected to focus on making the current rules easier to enforce. Lowering the burden of proof the Information Commissioner’s Office needs to act against suspected offenders is likely to be proposed
The Committee’s report agreed there was a need to lower the threshold for the ICO to act, arguing it should “cover any marketing telephone call or text message likely to cause nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.” At present, the ICO has to prove substantial material or financial harm and substantial distress has been caused before it can take action against nuisance callers.
Mike Lordan, chief of operations for the Direct Marketing Association welcomed the “comprehensive, balanced, fair and sensible” report. He adds: “We welcome it as an important contribution to the debate on how to tackle the problem of irresponsible and dishonest telemarketing. Dishonest telemarketing is a source of distress and annoyance to people as well as businesses. The report correctly identifies the target as rogue companies – rather than the reputable telemarketing industry, which adheres to the highest standards of best practice. “
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, which has been running a campaign calling for tougher action on nuisance calls, adds: “We’re pleased that MPs are joining our call to cut off nuisance calls which plague the lives of millions of people. We’ve been pushing for regulators to get more powers and to work together better so they can really crack down on firms who break the rules.”
MPs’ action plan for tackling nuisance calls
- Phone companies need to offer customers more options to “screen, block and curtail” nuisance calls free-of-charge.
- The Government should ban telemarketers from withholding numbers.
- A “one-stop shop” for people to complain about nuisance callers should be setup.
- The ICO’s threshold to act against nuisance callers should be lowered to cover “any marketing telephone call or text message likely to cause nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.”
- The Government should legislate to ban the unfair processing not only of personal data but also of contact data.
- More organisations should be encouraged to become Telephone Preference Service licensees by reducing the annual fee for smaller companies.
- Ofcom should extend its persistent misuse powers to cover all direct marketing calls.
- The Direct Marketing Commission should be given “more clout” by being handed “greater authority” to share relevant information with both the Direct Marketing Association and the Telephone Preference Service.