Telephone Preference Service is failing to cut out cold calls
I'm signed up to the Telephone Preference Service yet still get plenty of calls from Indian call centres. More needs to be done.
Over the past seven days, I have had four very similar phone calls at home – three of them in one day. All come from India, and all are voiced by someone claiming a very English sounding name. I live in a London area with one of the highest concentrations of people of South Asian descent anywhere, but I have yet to meet an Indian Arabella or Robert.
Each one starts with the same script: “You have been specially selected to take part in a marketing survey of consumer interest. Can you spare just a few minutes?” I have been down this road before and know that the “few minutes” stretches to more than 20 minutes of total tedium where you are asked questions about well-known UK brands and charities.
The “special selection” is the computer choosing my name, address and phone number. And the so-called survey ranges from asking me to give money to charity to buying conservatory accessories.
Nevertheless, I go through the first one (27 minutes) with non-committal answers.
Wait... I'm registered with the Telephone Preference Service
These calls were all on my home phone number which is registered with the Telephone Preference Service. And when I last wrote about Indian sales calls – some are more targeted such as touts for ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyers or intermediaries pushing personal loans – the TPS contacted me.
It wanted to proclaim it was doing a good job but also chide me for my criticism of how easy it seems to be to get around its legally enforceable ban on sales calls To be fair, since I signed up to TPS some years ago, I receive zero calls from home improvement companies, the previous bane of my life.
But that has been outweighed by more calls from India, silent calls, and recorded messages telling me I have won a Florida cruise (all I have to pay is the fare to Miami and my food on board).
The TPS tells me: “It is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your specific consent to do so.”
The tickbox loophole
Companies can use “specific consent” to call customers. But a gaping loophole is ticking a box to allow calls from “carefully chosen partners of interest to you” (or similar wording).
Earlier this month, I bought a pen online. The company itself was brilliant – next day delivery as promised. But it had a tick box. Why?
Given my purchase, I might want ink and paper. The really nice pen firm would want sell me these – it would be insane to hand over my details to competitors. So had I agreed to calls, emails or texts, these would be from random companies.
I did not give specific consent to any company involved in the call centre “survey” that I took through to conclusion.
The difficulty is that the law in this respect is largely circumvented. Overseas calls centres are outside the TPS regulatory reach. So why not go for the “famous name” companies which use them?
The defence here is that most, if not all, do not know what is being done in their name. They don't contract with an overseas call centre – this is usually done through several layers of intermediaries, based both here and abroad.
The TPS insistence that the law be obeyed is understandable although I can't find evidence of prosecutions on the scale that my experience (and that of many others) would suggest is needed.
Nevertheless, the TPS says I should report these instances. It states: “There are some companies that ignore the TPS legislation. These organisations are breaking the law, you can complain to the TPS about unsolicited sales and marketing calls via our website (which is www.tpsonline.org.uk) or by calling 0845 070 0707 for a complaint form. All we need is the telephone number, the name of the company and the date and time of the call.”
All we need? That's a tall order. Indian call centres leave no numbers (1471 says “withheld”) and no usable names (try tracking down “Marketing Services” or “Consumer Surveys”). I can do dates and times but I don't think that would get regulators very far.
The TPS knows this. It says: “We are aware that some companies break the law further by withholding their telephone number and not making it clear who they are when you answer the phone making it difficult to contact them to investigate a complaint. You can pass information about these calls directly to the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) by visiting their website www.ico.gov.uk."
Maybe I have missed something on the ICO site. But I can't find anything to report an unnamed firm from an unlisted phone number. And if I could what is the point telling anyone?