S4M-04204 ♦ Liam McArthur () (Scottish Liberal Democrats): That the Parliament understands that nuisance calls blight the lives of many people in Orkney and across Scotland; believes that these calls are particularly distressful for older, vulnerable people; is concerned that a quarter of a billion nuisance calls are made to Scots each year and that complaints about silent or abandoned calls in the UK have trebled in 2012; believes that poor regulation is failing to address the problem and that the rise in companies offering redress for missold payment protection insurance and a lack of consumer knowledge are exacerbating the situation; considers that more must be done to tackle nuisance calls and other forms of unsolicited contact, and would welcome a single, simple point of contact for any individual wishing to protect their privacy from unwanted calls, texts, faxes and emails.
This motion has attracted support from Labour, Tory, SNP and Green MSPs. The debate takes place at 5pm tonight. Ahead of his speech, Liam said:
Astonishingly, there were 650 million silent calls made in the UK and 45 million spam texts sent in Europe last year alone. Every Scot is bombarded with 50 nuisance calls each year and, largely as a result of the obtrusive calls, 3 million people across the UK will be scammed out of £800 this year.
Even after joining the Telephone Preference Service, some people continue to receive nuisance calls relating to PPI compensation, accident claims or pay-day loan companies.
Measures currently in place to shield people from nuisance calls are not doing the job. The Liberal Democrats are calling for both of Scotland’s governments to work together to bring about measures that will protect millions of Scots from nuisance calls.
This could be done through the creation of a single point of contact for anyone wishing to protect their privacy from unwanted calls, texts or e-mails. Many of my constituents in Orkney have been in touch to tell me how fed up they are of nuisance calls and texts to their mobiles and home phones. I would urge people from across Scotland to sign our petition and make their voice heard in the fight against nuisance calls.
Edinburgh West’s Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart started this campaign which has been backed by the Sunday Post. If you agree, you can sign up here.
Mike had a similar debate in Westminster two weeks ago. This is his speech from Hansard:
I wish to tackle the important issue of nuisance calls. Like many Members, I am fed up with receiving nuisance calls on my mobile and home telephone, and unsolicited texts sent to my mobile. It is a real problem for many of my constituents, much as cold-calling in person was many years ago. It was mainly energy companies who indulged in cold-calling in person, but thanks to many local campaigns across the country, most of the big six energy companies have stopped the practice. It is time to turn our attention to the issue of nuisance calls and texts.
There were 650 million silent calls made in the UK last year, and 45 million spam texts sent in Europe last year and every year. Some 3 million UK adults will be scammed out of £800 each this year by fraudulent marketing calls. It is clear that we have an industry in crisis and a country under siege. People should not have to put up with this menace, which puts many vulnerable and elderly people at just as much risk of fraud as if the crook or pushy salesman turned up at their door unannounced. Yet the two Departments responsible for various aspects of the industry—the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice—do not seem to think that there is a need for any change in legislation.
In response to a letter that I sent him, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) said that although the Government do not believe that sweeping changes are necessary to the regulatory framework, the Ministry of Justice continues to keep the Information Commissioner’s Office powers under review. Thousands of people disagree and are backing my campaign to restrict this nuisance. They say that their experience shows that the current situation is simply not good enough. Many people have shared their horror stories with me. I would welcome the chance to meet Ministers from DCMS and the Ministry of Justice to discuss the issue.
The Sunday Post in Scotland has helped to promote my campaign nationally, and a spokesman for the newspaper recently told me:
“It’s clear from the overwhelming response we have had from our readers this problem plagues our daily lives.
And yet regardless of asking for them to stop—and sometimes taking steps to halt them—the onslaught continues.
The will is there from people to put on an end to this once and for all. Now is the time for the Government to act on that will and strengthen existing legislation.”
I could not agree more.
Since launching my campaign only four weeks ago, over 10,500 people have signed the campaign petition at no2nuisancecalls.net—sorry for the plug. Like many others, I know that I have not had a fall in the last five years and am not entitled to any more payment protection insurance compensation, and I certainly do not want a payday loan. Nevertheless, I am continually contacted by text and phone by companies offering me those things.
I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service for both home and mobile numbers, but even that does not stop the onslaught. According to Ofcom figures, complaints to the TPS about unwanted marketing calls jumped to almost 10,000 for the month of July. That compares with just over 3,000 in December last year. In an online poll of 4,000 individuals for Which?magazine, 76% of respondents said that despite signing up to the TPS, they still receive many nuisance calls. Only 1% rated the service as excellent and said that they no longer received nuisance calls. Once again, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage, seemed to miss that point; he said that the TPS was generally successful in reducing the number of unsolicited marketing calls received. That is not the experience of the majority of people registering with it.
Ofcom suggests that increased activity by PPI and accident claims companies is partly to blame for the rise. The problem is partly the result of the fact that PPI calls are not classed as sales calls but as a service or marketing calls. On texts, the law says that there must be an unsubscribe option such as “Reply STOP to this number”. However, there are two problems with that. First, there are serious worries about how much it would cost to send such a text. Secondly, such a reply tells the sender that the number is genuine and in use, which might merely engender further contact from that company and from others.
Recent research by the Association of British Insurers has found that more than three quarters of people—78%—have been contacted by a claims management company asking if they have been involved in an accident or mis-sold payment protection insurance. The ABI found that 92% of those who received such a message from a claims management company said that it was not relevant to them.
Complaints about abandoned or silent calls trebled in 2012, rising from 957 in December 2011 to 3,390 in July 2012. That is probably only the tip of the iceberg. In May 2011, the Information Commissioner’s Office was given powers to fine companies up to £500,000 if they broke the rules on unsolicited texts and phone calls. To date, however, the ICO has failed to prosecute any company for breaking the rules, in spite of the fact that it has received more than 7,000 complaints this year—a 43% increase on last year, when fewer than 5,000 complaints were received for the entire year.
ICO has done great work on fining companies that fail to look after their data properly, but the strongest action so far on breaking of the legislation governing unsolicited calls and texts was a strongly worded statement in July this year which talked of the ICO “baring its teeth”.I understand better than most the difficulties involved in carrying out complex police investigations, but we must understand what prevents those investigations from leading to prosecutions and fines. Until an example is made, those companies will carry on unfazed. The
All of that points to a huge problem that is on the increase—indeed, it is out of control. Some companies offer a service to help protect people from unwanted calls, but it can be costly—anything from £35 to £100—and often those companies are not up front about the charges. To be frank, why should we have to pay for such a service anyway? I believe, as do the 10,000-plus people who have signed up to my online campaign, that we have the right to be free from such calls without having to pay for the privilege.
As I have said, the problem is out of control, and requires urgent action. The Information Commissioner desperately needs to have the power to end this menace. I am therefore calling for the Information Commissioner’s powers to be strengthened to take in all forms of unsolicited contact, and for a single point of contact for any individual wishing to protect their privacy and block unwanted calls, texts, faxes and e-mails. That express wish should be taken seriously and acted upon.
I simply do not understand why we continue to allow this to happen, and why we are so permissive about our telecoms contact. If Barclays or HomeServe—two companies that, between them, were fined £5 million for silent calls—were knocking on our vulnerable granny’s door every day, then running away before she answered, we would be appalled. Instead, we tell those companies that they can do that only one day in 20: 5% of their calls are allowed to be silent. If claims management companies were knocking on her door, then bullying her into making PPI claims or taking payday loans, we would be up in arms. Instead, we hide behind the claim that those are merely surveys. If, because of all of that, we had to hire a doorman at significant expense to filter all the unwanted people at the door and only allow real visitors in, that would be completely unacceptable, yet that is the awful, frightening telecoms reality for many older, vulnerable members of society. It simply cannot continue. It simply must stop.