All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuisance Calls

All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuisance Calls
inquiry into Nuisance Telephone Calls
Written evidence from BT
September 2013
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into Nuisance Telephone Calls and Text Messages
1. BT welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the inquiry. We are constantly
looking for ways to help customers manage calls. We work with many stakeholders including
Ofcom, industry and consumer groups to tackle this issue.
2. For many years we have provided customers with advice and information via our Nuisance
Calls Advice Line and Nuisance Call Bureau, and we are working with organisations such as
Which? to improve customer awareness and consistency of information. We also have a
number of products that allow customers to manage calls. We are also leading industry
efforts to ensure that technical standards and processes support the tracing of nuisance calls
and the reliability of calling information.
3. There is no single solution to the problem, but a suite of measures that can minimise it.
Additional regulation alone will limit the ability of legitimate companies while companies
who consistently ignore the rules will continue to do so.
4. We are supportive of changes that will help trace the companies making these calls. We
believe that the solution lies in industry working with regulators and consumer bodies.
What is a nuisance call?
5. There is no one formal definition of a ‘nuisance call’. One person’s view will be different to
another. It is important to have a clear focus on the types of calls that need to be addressed
in order to help identify effective solutions.
6. For the purposes of this document, potential examples of nuisance calls are:
‘Cold’ (where there is no existing customer relationship) marketing calls, such as payment
protection insurance (PPI) claim sales. Many are made from international and/ or withheld
Silent and abandoned calls – where companies use autodiallers and don’t have enough
agents to handle calls.
Unsolicited automated messaging - pre-recorded messages to deliver marketing messages
to customers who have not agreed to receive them.
7. Legitimate marketing calls, for example, where customers have previously agreed to receive
marketing calls (and then forgotten), or where there is an existing customer/supplier
relationship should not be considered within the scope of ‘nuisance calls’ for the purposes of
this inquiry.
Regulation, enforcement and potential regulatory and legislative solutions
8. Relevant rules already exist (as outlined below) and it is good to see Ofcom and the
Information Commissioner’s office (ICO) using these, as well as issuing a joint plan in July
2013 to tackle nuisance calls. BT works closely with the regulatory agencies in addressing
nuisance calls.
9. BT’s concern, however, is that enforcement of both privacy rules, Privacy & Electronic
Communications Regulations (PECR) and /or the Data Protection Act and the Persistent
Misuse Policy (PM) can sometimes take far too long. A quick, effective enforcement regime
is required. Companies choosing to hide their identities can and do change their name and
numbers to avoid being caught, so the speed of action and the ability to trace calls across
different network providers is key.
10. Two sets of rules to tackle nuisance calls can be confusing. Companies breaching one set can
often be breaching the other too, eg, no consent (under PECR), or no valid calling line
identity (CLI) displayed or recorded messages being left on abandoned calls (under PM), and
yet only one set of legislation is used. Why not use both, especially if the ICO has more
difficulty in always having to prove distress? We hope that extra resource at ICO and Ofcom
will be directed at taking appropriate action against companies who make nuisance calls and
flout existing rules.
11. The European Commission is carrying out a review of the Data Protection Directive and one
proposal is to change the definition of ‘consent’. The draft Regulation is currently going
through the legislative process, and as a result the European Parliament is expected to reach
an agreed position later this year. Rather than focus additional resources at this time on
issues already being discussed by the EU, we would welcome more focus on co-operation
with cross-border regulatory agencies to help prevent unwanted overseas calls.
Practical measures by communications service providers to curtail such communications.
12. BT supports the view that that technology alone cannot provide the solution to nuisance
calls and has developed a strategy which also encompasses enhanced products, customer
awareness, enforcement by regulators and industry-wide procedures.
13. Products and services from BT to help customers manage calls
Anonymous Call Reject, allows customers to block calls from callers in the UK who’ve
withheld their phone number
Choose to Refuse, allows customers to block incoming calls from certain numbers
Caller Display, lets customers see the number that is calling before answering so they
can decide whether to answer
BT Privacy at Home, a service that includes free Caller Display and registration with TPS
Call Sign, provides an additional number with a different ring tone. Customers can give
this number to family or friends
BT Answer 1571, a voicemail service for callers to leave a message if customers don’t
answer the phone
BT 1471, the number to dial to check the last person who called.
BT 6500 and next-generation phones
14. In January this year we launched the new BT6500 phone. It allows customers to block up to
10 numbers. We have just launched a ‘big button’ version.
Displaying the number of calls from abroad
15. From autumn 2013 customers will, if required, see the CLI of overseas calls. We will roll this
out to all customers by autumn 2014. This will allow customers to recognise ‘wanted’ calls
and provide CLI /data to help report calls to regulators.
Nuisance call industry forum
16. In November 2012 we set up a Nuisance Call Industry Forum, which highlighted the issues of
nuisance calls and gained better Industry engagement and co-operation.
Data capture & sharing trial /Call Tracing
17. BT supports efforts to improve call tracing to address the problem of nuisance calls at
source. We led a data capture and information-sharing trial, where complaints data was
passed to Ofcom daily. The data has been collated and the learning is being used by NICC
(The technical standards body for the UK) to agree a call-tracing process.
18. We also instigated the work now being undertaken by industry and NICC to carry out a
review of the existing CLI technical standards and processes to improve the tracing of calls
and to update existing guidance on the use of phone numbers. A call-tracing process is being
drafted that will task CPs to trace calls back through the network to their origination.
19. In parallel to the NICC work, NICC, BT Wholesale and Ofcom are setting up an ‘Interconnect’
group that will be chaired by the Office of the Telecoms Adjudicator (OTA). This will address
process and contractual aspects of nuisance-call identification and the
commercial/regulatory arrangements to support the tracing process compliance.
Empowering customers
20. A key part of our strategy is ensuring customers know where to go to get information and
support on how to deal with nuisance calls. This has a number of aspects:
Nuisance Call Advice Line /Nuisance Call Bureau
21. BT provides a Nuisance Call Advice Line (NCAL, 0800 661 441) and Nuisance Call Bureau
(NCB). These provide practical advice to the public and BT customers on how they can
minimise nuisance calls.
22. NCAL is supported by a recorded advice line and our ‘unwanted calls’ website. Customers
can access information or request hard-copy publications addressing the issue.
Raising consumer awareness
23. We work closely with consumer bodies (eg, Customer Forum Communications, Consumer
Panel, Which?) to explain what services are available. We have agreed with Which? to link to
its complaints portal.
24. As part of the Industry Forum we are discussing and seeking commitment from members as
to the feasibility of CPs, ensuring that they have a standardised ‘minimum set’ of
information available for end-users (with CPs adding as they individually see fit).
25. Additionally we are active members of wider working parties such as the DMA’s Unsolicited
Voice and SMS working party and the ICO’s Operation Linden, where we have been
requesting a joint campaign to raise customer awareness.
Cross-border engagement
26. Nuisance calls can originate from many different countries. To stop illegal sales and
marketing calls into the UK and make sure accurate CLIs are passed through the network
regulation in all countries needs to be enforced. To do this, regulators need to have strong
cross border links. BT has raised this with Ofcom, which agrees this is necessary. BT
responded (16 Nov 2012) to the ‘A harmonised BEREC co-operation process’ consultation
and proposed that the scope of fraud and misuse was increased to include the number of
cross border “nuisance calls and texts” sent in vast volumes.
The role of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)
27. Regulation 26 of PECR requires Ofcom to maintain and keep up to date a register of numbers
allocated to individual subscribers who have notified them that they do not want to receive
unsolicited direct marketing calls. The register is run and managed by the Direct Marketing
Association on behalf of Ofcom. However, the DMA has no enforcement powers. The
obligation to set up TPS was on Ofcom, which has passed it to the DMA who can't do
anything regarding enforcement, so it's up to the ICO to enforce PECR. This situation should
be addressed.
The effectiveness of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)
28. The TPS is a good and useful scheme valued by many customers. The lists provided can be an
effective way for companies to manage calling lists to remove customers who do not want
to be called.
29. It is important, however, to recognise the limits of such a scheme. Customers might
mistakenly believe their TPS registration or opt out requests will stop all calls being made to
them; it will not. The TPS only seeks to prevent sales and marketing calls, not service
messages. More awareness might help manage customer expectations.
30. Although the effectiveness of the TPS has been called out as being an area of focus, there
are many other areas of the E Privacy rules which are flouted by marketers, and which can
cause just as much, if not more, harm if disregarded; automated calls about PPI and debt
management being an example. Companies flouting the rules in one area are likely to flout
the rules across all areas, including those of the TPS, so any ineffectiveness in the TPS would
be mirrored elsewhere. The enforcement of existing rules should be therefore looked at in
all areas, not just TPS, to have any real effect. There is also the problem of operators making
calls from outside the jurisdiction, and the associated problems of how to track and enforce
all relevant UK rules, not just the TPS, to prevent the distress caused.
Further enquiries can be directed to: David Pincott, Head of Political Research, Policy and Briefing,
BT Group plc.
Tel: 020 7356 6585/email:
BT Group
September 2013