Helen Martin: Time to freeze out cold callers

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AT least once or twice a day our office desk is subject to a choir of telephones. Six of them ring one after
 another like crickets, building up to a cacophony before simmering down again and falling silent. We ignore them. It’s not poltergeist activity or demonic possession. It’s automated cold-calling.

At home we receive around five nuisance calls and messages a day, though not all are automated. A real caller always begins by getting my married surname wrong, before launching in to some monotonous sales spiel or asking personal questions such as when was the last time I changed my fuel provider.

I like the real people calls better than the automated ones because at least I can interrupt their script by asking if they are aware we are on the Telephone Preference Service register. On almost every occasion, they say they are not and then hang up. Occasionally I have managed to quiz them a bit further, asking if their organisation checks which numbers are registered and which aren’t before they call them.

Sometimes they claim they do, until I point out that all you have to do is type in the number on the TPS website and you’ll be told if it’s registered. So how can their company get it wrong? And why then, do they ring again the following week?

The truth is, none of them bother. Like Home Energy and Lifestyle Management, fined £200,000 last week for pestering home-owners with six million cold calls in the space of two months, they don’t care how much they are damaging their own reputation and annoying the public because they have an unsophisticated and short-sighted sales policy . . . do anything to get a hit.

These companies and call centres are domestic terrorists, stalkers, bullies, call them what you will. Whether they are selling double-glazing, insulation, dubious land deals or even representing charities, they somehow fail to realise that disturbing people with unsolicited, pressure sales calls is not the way to get business.

Few of them ever face heavy fines. As individuals we can report them to the Information Commissioner’s Office but to do that we have to first register for the TPS then elicit from the caller the name of their firm. Many are reluctant to repeat it and just hang up, well aware of why you are asking.

The point is, why should the onus be on us at all? Why don’t governments just make cold-calling, automated or not, illegal?

Some will argue it’s a perfectly decent way of contacting potential customers and maybe 30 years ago, when households possibly received one such call a month, they had a point.

Some weeks ago I was determined to have the landline telephone service removed altogether because its main function now is to provide me with nuisance calls. But I have elderly relatives who would be confused and shouldn’t have to pay extra to call me at home on a mobile number. Mobiles can get lost or broken.

Himself still rushes to answer the landline, often expecting it to be a real and welcome phone call, then swears under his breath as he slams it down on another time-waster. So now I’ve stopped answering it at all . . . unless I’m in a bad mood and spoiling for a fight. And what could be more deserving of my wrath than a cold caller?