Campaigners are calling for action against rogue operators

Whether it’s PPI mis-selling, double glazing  or accident insurance claims, the plague of unsolicited calls has reached the status of No. 1 complaint to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Deputy Political Editor

It is rapidly becoming one of the most irritating features of modern life. The telephone rings. You rush to pick it up, anticipating a call from a friend you haven't heard from for months.

Instead it is an unfamiliar or automated voice trying to sell you something. Even worse, the receiver is silent apart from the distant click of a connection being made.

Five years ago the problem of nuisance calls was virtually unknown. Today levels of anger and annoyance are running so high among the public that more letters and emails are sent to the Department for Culture Media and Sport about it than about any other subject.

Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, told the Commons: "I know it is a problem from my own postbag, because, of the correspondence with the Department by MPs, I suspect the majority is about nuisance calls."

A departmental spokesman confirmed yesterday: "In terms of day to day correspondence, nuisance calls is the biggest issue."

The public's blood pressure is rising so rapidly that an all-party group of MPs is being formed next month to urge ministers to crack down on the surge in nuisance calling.

Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months - and three-quarters of people who try to block them carry on receiving them against their wishes.

Now the Government is preparing to take action against large companies which bombard householders with calls after acknowledging that elderly people can be intimidated by the "menace" of receiving dozens of unsolicited - and often silent - calls a week.

Michael Crockart, the Liberal Democrat MP setting up the group, told the Independent: "The extent of the problem is immense. For the vulnerable and those who are housebound, the telephone is their major, and sometimes only, way to communicate with the outside world.

"If nine out of ten times when it rings it is someone trying to sell them something it makes that avenue to the outside world almost unusable."

More than 100 MPs backed a demand for action by Alun Cairns, the Conservative MP for the Vale of Glamorgan.

He said: "This is a problem on a huge scale, particularly for people who spend most of their time at home. Older and retired people are more vulnerable to it.

"It is driving people to the point where they don't answer their phones - they could be missing calls from GP practices, medical services, police stations and other essential services."

Mr Cairns compared nuisance calls to "someone knocking at the door wearing a mask or a balaclava". He said: "Would we answer the door to such an unknown caller? Of course we would not. Why then do we allow the same thing to happen over the telephone?"

The Government will use a forthcoming Communications white paper to set out plans to give extra teeth to watchdogs to act against the worst offenders and offer more protection to cosnumers.

Recent research by the consumer organisation Which? found that 53 per cent of unsolicited calls on landlines were from firms hawking financial services, such as PPI claims or insurance. Other frequent callers were accident claims firms (33 per cent), non-financial companies, such as double-glazing, mobile phone and utility firms (27 per cent) and market research surveys (26 per cent).

The biggest challenge in bearing down in the problem is that responsibility for preventing abuse is split between Ofcom and the Information Commissioner's Office.

Mr Vaizey has expressed his frustration that responsibility for regulation is divided between the two watchdogs. He said the split would be addressed in the White Paper, along with giving consumers "more redress". He urged telecommunications companies to develop technology to deal with callers which withheld their numbers.

Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which?, said: "Many of us have been bombarded with spurious claims of PPI or injury compensation, and people are telling us they are totally fed up with this nuisance and want to see action. We want the regulators to work together to properly police and punish those responsible for unwanted calls and texts, using the existing law. If they are unwilling or unable to enforce the rules, the Government should step in."

THE LAW

People who want to avoid sales and marketing calls can sign up to the Telephone Preference Service, which is overseen by the communications watchdog Ofcom.

It is against the law to call consumers on the list unless they have given permission.

The Information Commissioner investigates consumer complaints and takes action against offenders. It has the power to fine them up to £500,000, but has acted sparingly. Last month it issued a £90,000 penalty to a company selling kitchens.

There are several practical problems in registering a complaint: some callers use withheld numbers and those ringing from abroad may be beyond British law.

Calls may be legal because a householders has months before ticked a box allowing their information to be shared or because they are classified as 'surveys' and not 'sales calls'.

The Commissioner is also responsible for investigating complaints about 'spam' text messages.

Ofcom can hand down fines of up to £2m for silent or abandoned calls.

Last year it fined Homeserve, a company that offers repair insurance for home appliances, £750,000 for making silent calls.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

Corporate Communications Manager - London - £60,000

£55000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone