They cause endless frustration and leave some households scared to answer their landlines, but now nuisance calls are set for a major crackdown, the Chancellor George Osborne has announced.
A package of £3.5million has been earmarked to trial call blocking technology, which could help cut back unwanted phone calls and text messages from cold callers.
Funding will also go towards a campaign to raise awareness of how to reduce and report nuisance calls, he said in Wednesday’s Budget.
Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart, who has been campaigning for some time on the issue, said the funding could make a real difference to households blighted by relentless nuisance calls.
Worrying: For some, cold calls can be worrying or stressful as well as irritating or distracting
‘This day has been a long time coming, but £3.5 million is a significant investment in protecting vulnerable consumers and will make a huge difference to hundreds of thousands of people across the country,’ he said.
‘What we need now is for the telecoms and financial services industries to step up and match this commitment.’
A recent study by the charity StepChange revealed that for many nuisance calls are more than just an irritation or distraction and may be doing more long-term damage.
As many as 8.8million adults have been left stressed or anxious as a result of nuisance calls, it found. A further 3.2million were afraid to answer the phone as a result of such unwanted contact.
The problem of nuisance calls could be exacerbated in the near future as fraudsters seek to take advantage of the new pensions freedoms being afforded to retirees.
From next month over-55s will be able to access their full pension savings rather than transferring them into an annuity.
Those who have already bought an annuity will also be able to sell it for a lump sum as well.
But the Information Commissioner’s Office fears it could be a bonanza for sharks and ‘snake oil salesmen’ targeting older people with texts and cold calls to try to get their hands on their pension pots.
The ICO Office warned that pension scams could be the ‘next PPI’ with rogue firms bombarding the public with messages in an effort to get them to sign up to dubious schemes.
Pensions Minister Steve Webb, architect of the reforms, said anyone cold called by a firm offering them a free pensions review should ‘put the phone down’.
‘You can spend years saving into a pension only to find yourself tricked out of your money in the blink of an eye,’ he warned.
The ICO is already working to shut down companies that illegally cold call households.
Last week it raided a company that is believed to have made up to six million nuisance phone calls a day.
The call centre used sophisticated technology to leave ‘millions upon millions’ of anonymous recorded messages on mobiles and landlines.
More than 90million numbers were reportedly held by the firm – the equivalent of more than one for every person in the UK.
In the box: Funding to help crack down on nuisance callers was one of the announcements in the Chancellor’s Budget
The ICO said it appeared to have ‘cornered’ a sizeable proportion of the cold-call market.
The small office, in Hove, East Sussex, is said to have bombarded people with offers to consolidate their debts or help them pursue a compensation claim for mis-sold payment protection insurance.
The business apparently made between four and six million approaches a day – equivalent to calling every member of the population two to three times a month.
The ICO launched an investigation after it received ‘hundreds’ of complaints about nuisance calls from multiple numbers linked to the firm. Many complaints came from vulnerable and elderly people ‘frightened’ by the barrage of calls.
Investigators said the centre would routinely call every number in its database via an automatic computer system, and – after exhausting the list – would restart the process.
The call centre, which has not been named, technically ‘does not exist’ in records, but is believed to be linked to an offshore firm registered in the British Virgin Islands. It is not clear how long it has been operating.
The ICO said it was a complex operation on an ‘astounding’ scale.
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