1. Join the Mailing Preference Service (MPS)
Reputable UK-registered companies use the database provided by the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) to filter out customers who do not wish to receive direct mail. To register for this free service, simply sign up at the MPS website.
You can also register your previous address, a previous occupier at your current address, and details of someone who has died.
2. Join the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)
The Telephone Preference Service is a free, opt-out service for unsolicited sales and marketing calls. It is illegal for organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) to make calls to TPS-registered telephone numbers without your consent.
Sign up at the TPS website, but please note that this service takes 28 days to activate and will not stop calls from overseas.
3. Tell your existing providers
Although the MPS and TPS screen out unwanted contact, they do not stop direct mail or sales calls from organisations with which you already have an existing relationship. In many cases, these businesses will have acquired your consent to receive sales and marketing calls, for example, by making a previous donation to a charity.
To wipe out these unwanted letters, e-mails and calls, check your contact status with each organisation. In many cases, you can do this online and then change your preferences to stop sales and marketing messages. Otherwise, you may need to call, e-mail or write to each organisation, asking for a 'do not call or mail' marker to be added to your personal details.
4. Tick the 'No contact' box
Be careful not to give permission to organisations to pass on your personal contact details to third parties. Otherwise, you could be bombarded by a constant stream of market-research enquiries, sales promotions and other annoying communications.
Whether you're online, on the telephone or on paper, always choose the 'no contact' option.
5. Return junk mail
I have a sheet of sticky labels with "Not at this address. Return to sender. Please remove these contact details from your database" printed on them. I use these to return unopened junk mail and letters addressed to previous occupants.
In most cases, legitimate companies get the message and stop wasting my time and their money by sending unwanted mail to my address.
6. Keep personal details secure
You never know for sure exactly who is on the end of an unwanted telephone call, letter or e-mail. It could be a criminal trying to dupe you into handing over sensitive financial information.
Therefore, never give out any personal data when responding to cold callers or e-mails. Instead, always contact organisations via publicly available telephone numbers and official websites.
Otherwise, you could fall foul of financial fraudsters.
7. Recycle junk mail
When you're really fed up with junk mail, it's fun to 'pay it forward'.
You can do this by gathering up all the unwanted offers that fall on your doormat from pizza-delivery businesses, estate agents, taxi firms, and home-improvement companies. When you've amassed a decent sheaf of leaflets, pop them into a reply-paid envelope and post this back to its sender.
This feels great, as it gets rid of all your junk leaflets and bumps up the offending company's postal charges.
8. Delete spam e-mails and texts
If you receive a genuine -- but unwanted -- e-mail from a legitimate company, then by all means use the 'unsubscribe' option to remove yourself from this database.
However, if you suspect that an e-mail or text message is nothing more than spam, then just delete it. It's simply not worth wasting your time dealing with dodgy spammers.
9. Have some fun
I strongly advise against being rude or offensive to unwanted callers. Hardened telemarketers shrug off such abuse, but it can leave you feeling stressed and upset. Instead, why not have some fun with callers, while also wasting their time?
- Ask the caller to hold, then put down the phone and leave it until they give in and hang up.
- Claim to be long-lost friends and launch into a bizarre story about when you last met.
- Insist that you're so hungry that you can't answer any questions until the caller has ordered your favourite meal for you.
- Ask the caller to hold and then act out the most bizarre, noisy scene you can imagine, such as being abducted by aliens, eaten by giant snails, seeing a ghost, etc.
- Ask for the caller's home number, so you can ring back later. When they say that you cannot call their home, you reply, "That is exactly my point!" and then hang up.
When confronted with such bizarre behaviour, most telemarketers give up within a minute. If not, perhaps your best 'teleplays' will be recorded and then uploaded to YouTube.
10. Block calls
Lastly, if you've had enough of automated or silent calls -- promoting such things as PPI (payment protection insurance), accident compensation, 'free' holidays or ways to ditch your debts -- then try a call-blocking service.
For example, BT's Anonymous Call Rejection service stops calls from withheld or anonymous numbers. Also, its Choose to Refuse service allows you to block up to 10 nuisance numbers. However, there is a monthly fee for these services, which do not prevent unwanted calls from overseas.
Alternatively, try a technological solution, such as the trueCall Nuisance Call Blocker, which Peter Jones rated as "the best idea he'd ever seen on Dragon's Den."
Finally, if you believe that you are being harassed by an organisation, then contact the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for advice. In extreme cases, the ICO can fine organisations up to £500,000 for breaking the UK's communication and data protection laws.
The ICO's helpline is 0303 123 1113 and is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Here's hoping you have a happier home life, free of irritating interruptions!