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Minister: Nuisance calls aren't 'unfortunate', they are harassment

Friday, February 26th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

New measures will help make “further inroads” in the battle against nuisance calls, the government has announced.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, minister for data protection and nuisance calls, said the government is exploring potential options for further regulation that will help fight the “scourge” of unwanted marketing calls.

They could include statutory measures making it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take action against companies that break the rules as well as technical innovation that would tackle the problem.

Speaking at the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) conference on data protection, Baroness Neville-Rolfe said nuisance calls shouldn’t be dismissed as an “unfortunate by-product of the rapid growth in data-led marketing” but as a form of harassment.

She said the stress and anxiety caused by such calls could be “immense”, especially for vulnerable people, and described one case where a person had been left “totally isolated” and close to suicide after receiving a barrage of aggressive and abusive sales calls.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe said the government has taken various steps to address bad practice by a “minority of rogue organisations”, including lowering the legal threshold to make it easier for the ICO to take action and making it easier for it to share nuisance calls information with Ofcom.

“We have encouraged the development of call answering and other products to tackle nuisance calls.

“In addition, the government has made half a million pounds available for the provision of call blocking devices to vulnerable people.”

Progress has been made, she said, but more can be done.

'Clarify the rules'

“We are exploring potential options for further regulation. This could include putting the ICO’s direct marketing guidance on a statutory footing.

“This would provide clarity on the responsibilities of those who instigate direct marketing calls; clarify the rules around time limits on third party consent; and make it easier for the ICO to take action against those who breach the rules.”

The government is also considering extending the ICO’s powers of compulsory audit to organisations responsible for generation nuisance calls as well as looking into technical solutions to tackle nuisance calls.

A recent consultation on plans to require all direct marketing callers to provide ‘calling line identification’ – a recognisable number on your phone’s display – also has the potential to make a “real difference”, she said, giving people a genuine choice about whether or not to accept a call.

The requirement would work well with BT’s new service to divert nuisance calls before they ring on customers phones, Baroness Neville-Rolfe said.

She said consumers can do things to avoid nuisance calls, including registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

“Much has been done but there is still more to do,” she said.

“I am confident that with determination and with your help and with the work of the ICO, DMA, Ofcom and others, we can make further inroads into the problem of nuisance calls.”

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