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Cold Calls

Volume 765: debated on Thursday 29 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action is being taken to reduce the number of cold calls made to households.

My Lords, we have already increased the level of monetary penalties that regulators can issue and have made it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take enforcement action. We are currently running a £1.5 million competition fund to encourage the development of more innovative, safe and cost-effective technology to block unwanted calls, and we will consult shortly on calling line identification, a subject close to my heart.

Many cold calls are from companies that sell leads to debt management companies. The FCA said in June that debt management firms are still failing Britain’s most vulnerable consumers, and last November the FCA wrote to the Minister saying that the rules on cold calling in consumer credit needed review. It is a year on, and there is no review. Every day of delay means that more and more people are exposed to faulty debt management advice. But the real puzzle is this: cold calling for mortgages is banned, so why is it not banned for debt management?

The noble Lord makes a good point and the FCA has committed to undertake a proper review of its rules on unsolicited marketing calls, emails and text messages from consumer credit firms. As he says, that will include debt management firms and so-called lead generators, which are basically data brokers. It will take place early next year. It is delayed but we have already suggested that the FCA might meet the noble Lord to discuss his concerns and ensure that they are fast-tracked.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and, in particular, my role chairing National Trading Standards. The noble Baroness will be aware of the work done by the NTS Scams Team which looks at repeat victims—usually elderly people who are on “suckers lists” which are circulated between different companies. Can the noble Baroness tell me what she thinks should happen to reduce the incidence, for example, of people calling pretending to be from the Telephone Preference Service, saying that there is now a charge for this service and then trying to extract money from the victims? As those vulnerable people are then often referred by trading standards to other local authority departments for support and care, will that support and care continue to be available given the level of cuts now in local authority budgets?

My Lords, there are several questions which I look forward to discussing with the noble Lord, but fraudulent and scam activities are a crime and should be constantly reported to Action Fraud. I have a feeling that consumer representatives and the Government are very much on the same side here, and I look forward to taking on these issues.

My Lords, who pays for the plethora of calls, which I am sure we have all had, regarding PPI mis-sold insurance?

My Lords, I am not sure who pays for them but by registering to the Telephone Preference Service it is possible to get oneself off the list, in relation to both mobile and home phones. Which? has done great work in this area and is about to do a marketing campaign to bring this to the consumer’s attention. Consumers have to be involved as well as regulators to draw attention to the fact that they are being targeted. I get calls as well.

My Lords, I was rather surprised to learn from the Evening Standard last night that the Minister knows not a lot about nuisance calls. I do not believe it. The one in 10 people who gets up to 20 a month certainly knows about nuisance calls. Will the Minister explain why the amendment that we got through to the Consumer Rights Act about caller identification has not yet been brought forward? Does she agree that our other proposals, such as automated reporting of nuisance calls or call-blocking equipment, should have been added? Maybe we should add them now.

My Lords, modern Ministers take the bus. As I have already said, we are about to consult on call identification. I think that the noble Baroness and I both felt that that was very important. We are on the case.

The Minister suggested that the Telephone Preference Service was the answer. In my experience with my elderly mother, I have tried very hard to stop these nuisance calls, which cause huge distress. I spoke to BT and it suggested the service. You have to give a range of numbers that you allow to come in and everything else will be blocked, but clearly that is not acceptable if you are expecting phone calls from a care service or a hospital. It is not practicable so I ask the Minister to come back with a more sensible and practical answer to this terrible problem.

I agree with the noble Baroness. There are several different things happening here; one has to look at the complexities in order to get things done. We put £3.5 million aside in the Budget for vulnerable people. I would like to talk to the noble Baroness about her particular example. We need a simple and effective regulatory regime that can be understood by the consumers affected, as well as those regulated.

My Lords, previous questions have mentioned the vulnerable people who receive these calls, which cause them a great deal of distress and worry. What are the Government doing to draw attention to the dangers of these calls—perhaps with advertising on television or announcements on radio that explain how to deal with them? For most of us that may be quite simple, but a lot of people who get these calls have no idea what is going on. They should be given better advice, by either leaflets or some other form of advertising.

The noble Lord is right. We need better communication with consumers, to explain not only about the Telephone Preference Service but also that, once you have told someone not to call again, they are committing an offence if they do so. As part of our work with the Which?-led group, we have been thinking about how to move that forward.