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Measuring the effectiveness of the Telephone Preference Service

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ICO and Ofcom draw up joint action plan to tackle nuisance calls

Signing up to the Telephone Preference Service reduces the number of unsolicited live marketing or sales calls consumers receive by around a third, according to research published today.

The TPS is a free service for consumers enabling them to opt-out of receiving unsolicited live sales or marketing calls.

Organisations are not allowed to make such calls to people who have signed up to the TPS register, unless they have given their prior consent. Some rogue companies ignore these rules, which is why some consumers registered with the TPS continue to receive nuisance marketing calls.

Consumers can be asked to give consent to marketing by ticking a box on an online sales form, for example. Sometimes, people do this without realising. This means they can continue to receive legitimate sales calls while they’re on the TPS register, even though they still might consider them a nuisance. A taskforce has been set up to look at the issue of marketing consent.

Ofcom has a duty to keep and maintain this ‘opt-out’ register and the TPS does this on its behalf. The Information Commissioner’s Office has lead responsibility for taking enforcement action against companies that call people registered with TPS without their prior consent.

Ofcom and the ICO commissioned a study to measure how effective the TPS is and whether it reduces the number of live marketing or sales calls received. It found that registering with the TPS reduced the average volume of live sales or marketing calls per month by 31%.

In addition, people on the TPS register are much more likely to be completely free of unsolicited live marketing sales calls. Nearly half (45%) of those registered with the TPS as part of the study did not receive any live sales calls, compared to a quarter (26%) of those who were not.

Reducing all nuisance calls
While the TPS exists to help reduce live sales and marketing calls received by consumers, the study found that registering also triggered a reduction in the total volume of all types of nuisance calls. This includes silent and abandoned calls and recorded marketing messages.

Registering with the TPS resulted in a 35% fall in the volume of all nuisance calls received per month.

Other ways to protect against nuisance calls
As well as registering with the TPS, there are other things consumers can do to help prevent or deal with nuisance calls and messages.

Ofcom has the following tips for consumers:

be careful who you give your contact details to, whether it’s online, on the phone, or in person.
look carefully at any marketing ‘opt-in’ and ‘opt-out’ boxes. These boxes are often buried in the small print and if you don’t pay attention to them you could find yourself inadvertently agreeing to be contacted by companies you don’t recognise;
if someone rings and asks for financial information over the phone such as your account details or PIN number, don’t provide it;
talk to your phone provider to see what privacy services are available and consider a call-blocker, although be aware, you may need to pay for these services; and
if you receive a nuisance call or message – make a complaint. Complaint information helps regulators take action against companies acting unlawfully. If the call is a live telesales call, an automated marketing message, or a SPAM text message, complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office. You can report spam texts to your mobile network operator by simply forwarding the text to 7726. If you receive a silent or abandoned call, complain to Ofcom.
Ofcom’s guides for consumers provide more information.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “It’s encouraging that people who register with the Telephone Preference Service see a significant reduction in nuisance calls.

“But we understand how frustrating it is to still receive some unsolicited sales calls despite being TPS-registered. That’s why we welcome tough enforcement action from the ICO against rogue companies who breach the rules as part of regulators’ joint work to help tackle nuisance calls.”

Simon Entwisle, the ICO’s Deputy Chief Executive, said: “While the results of this research show a decrease in the number of nuisance calls received by people registered with the TPS, it also shows that too many people continue to receive them. This is why there must be no further delay in strengthening our powers.

“Nuisance calls are just that - ‘a nuisance’ - and we believe that should be sufficient to let us consider a fine. The Government will be consulting on this change later in the year. In the meantime, we will continue to identify and punish those companies that are failing to respect the law and the wishes of those registered with the TPS.”

Next steps
Ofcom and the ICO will be sharing today’s research with Government. The findings may help to inform its consultation, expected later this year, on making it easier for the ICO to take enforcement action against companies who break the rules.

The Government has recently made legislative changes to make it easier for Ofcom to share intelligence with the ICO, which may help the ICO take enforcement action. This is due to come into force by October 2014.

Ofcom and the ICO are also members of a taskforce set up to look at whether the rules on marketing consent are working in the best interest of consumers. The research findings will help to inform discussions about this issue and any subsequent recommendations made to Government.

Notes
1. The TPS is a free service for consumers enabling them to opt-out of receiving unsolicited live sales or marketing calls. Ofcom has a duty to keep and maintain this register, which is provided on its behalf by Telephone Preference Service Ltd in the form of the TPS.

2. For the research, Ipsos MORI ran a randomised control trial to determine the effectiveness of the TPS. 782 participants kept a record of calls received during two four-week periods (November 2013 and March 2014). After the first period, half of the participants were unknowingly signed up for TPS. All participants gave permission to have their telephone number added to the TPS register during the trial, but they were not told whether they had actually been registered or not until the end of the trial. Full details on the research methodology are available in the research report.

3. The ICO is able to issue monetary penalties of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations that are causing, or have the potential to cause, substantial damage or substantial distress. To date the ICO has issued five civil monetary penalties for making unsolicited live marketing calls totalling £410,000. The fines were issued to DM Design (£90,000), Nationwide Energy Services (£125,000), We Claim You Gain (£100,000), Tameside Energy Services (£45,000) and Amber Windows (£50,000).

4. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.

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