MPs unveil plan to tackle nuisance calls

An influential group of MPs has unveiled recommendations for stamping out nuisance telephone calls, however, industry insiders fear the focus on voice calls could worsen the problem of spam text messages.

telemarketers

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuisance Calls, chaired by Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart, makes 16 recommendations calling on telecoms companies to pilot new ways of blocking specific phone numbers and for caller identification to be provided to consumers free of charge on all marketing calls.

The APPG’s report precedes the publication of communication minister Ed Vaizey’s own action plan, which was originally expected to be published tomorrow (31 October), while a separate report on the topic of nuisance calls by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is due in early November.

Stephen Dakin, managing director of software company Pinesoft, which gave evidence to the APPG and has contributed to roundtable discussions with Vaizey, says the APPG report is a “missed opportunity” to propose measures that government and industry could use to tackle nuisance SMS messages.

Dakin continues: “Even though the evidence given to the MPs on the All-Party Group illustrated how both texts and calls represent equally severe problems for consumers, none of the report’s 16 recommendations clearly outlined how texts might be dealt with.

“If those individuals engaged in illicit marketing perceive that more resources are being devoted to stopping nuisance calls to landlines and mobiles than to texts, they will simply concentrate on using spam SMS messages in order to continue their activities, while avoiding their falling foul of any new prohibitions or penalties.”

Pinesoft’s Mobile Preference Service tool, which allows consumers to opt out of marketing texts, is among a selection of technologies being looked at by MPs. The Direct Marketing Association director of public affairs Caroline Roberts agrees that the APPG’s recommendations “didn’t really address [texts]”.

While Roberts says the DMA supports of most of the group’s proposals, such as reducing the burden of proof needed to take legal action against nuisance callers, she also questions the need for another co-regulatory body to look at the problem – an approach recommended by the APPG, and which Vaizey is also believed to favour.

“I think the problem is we’ve almost got too many bodies,” Roberts says, adding: “A real mish-mash of people have got a stake in this.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom have already split regulatory powers in the area of nuisance calls, reporting to the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport respectively. The Telephone Preference Service, run by the DMA, also acts as a self-regulatory body for telemarketers under licence from Ofcom.

Many of the recommendations proposed by the APPG are included within a Private Member’s Bill, authored by Crockart and consumer association Which?, due to have its second reading in Parliament on Friday (1 November).

It is unlikely to become law without government support, but Crockart says: “All recommendations are easily achievable and if implemented will improve compliance, make reporting easier and more effective, protect and empower consumers, and improve the regulator’s capacity to take action.”

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