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Unsolicited Goods and Services: Telephones

Volume 465: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will make a statement on telephone call charges incurred by UK households who receive unsolicited sales calls from overseas; and what estimate has been made of the cost to UK households as a result of such charges. (160439)

The Premium Rate Services regulator, PhonePay Plus (formerly known as The Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services, ICSTIS), estimates that the UK Premium Rate Services (PRS) market, is worth over £1 billion a year and comprises of around 40,000 different services. Most services do not cause any problems but the Government take consumer protection very seriously indeed and we are taking steps to prevent abuse of the system. We work with both PhonePay Plus and Ofcom, the independent communications regulator, to ensure a co-ordinated, effective response to problems as they arise.

Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, no one is allowed to make an unsolicited telephone sales call to a subscriber who has either previously notified the caller that they do not wish to receive such calls or who has been registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) scheme for at least 28 days. Companies with a UK presence are legally required not to call a telephone number which has been registered with the TPS scheme, irrespective of whether the call is made from within the UK or from outside the UK. Such companies lay themselves open to enforcement action if they breach this requirement. The Government have made no estimate of costs to those UK subscribers who return unsolicited sales calls.

The Regulations require prior consent of the customer to those companies that make recorded calls to sell or promote their product or business. Also, the Regulations state that all messages must include the identity of the caller and an address or freephone number at which the caller can be contacted. Where a consumer receives an automated call they have not agreed to, there may have been a breach of the Regulations.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has responsibility for the enforcement of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. PhonePay Plus is the regulator to investigate cases, which involve PRS calls.