The future of the Telephone Preference Service is looking increasingly bleak, amid mounting criticism that it is powerless to stem the tidal wave of nuisance marketing calls.
The service is facing renewed scrutiny from the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, which, as part of its inquiry into unwanted calls and texts, is set to probe whether the TPS is fit for purpose.
The service is run by the DMA, under licence from Ofcom, and is regulated by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Despite seeing a major surge in sign-ups – at a rate of more than 100,000 a month, with 19 million phone numbers now registered – cold call complaints continue to rise. One recent report even suggested that people on the TPS actually get more unsolicited telemarketing calls.
The DMA’s answer is the proposed launch of a new accreditation scheme, called TPS Assured, which will be awarded to companies that meet industry standards of ethical practice. However, only brands which make their own calls will qualify, leaving outsourced contact centres out of the picture.
And BT’s head of customer service Warren Buckley has now thrown his weight behind those demanding change. Addressing MPs on the Committee, he said: “One of our concerns about the TPS element is that the TPS can’t help with the many rogue companies that actually – in the UK, but particularly overseas – are embarking on these activities. Neither TPS nor, to some extent, BT has any power over that.”
Despite being given extra powers last year, the ICO has only recently started fining companies which abuse the system, although it argues it is hampered by rules which mean it has to build a dossier of complaints – often taking months to compile. However, in July, the watchdog hailed the “huge progress” it was making.
Buckley also called on the Government to give Ofcom powers to trace the source of nuisance calls. Under current laws calls are only permitted to be traced in the case of 999 emergencies, following a court order or as part of a police investigation. International numbers can only be traced with the co-operation of authorities abroad.
“The recommendation that we have made as an industry is that we believe there should be a single body that has the authority to trace calls through,” Buckley said. “Our recommendation at the moment is that would be something that would sit within Ofcom.”
Buckley also demanded that the authorities enforce call identification, which is a requirement under the regulations but is rarely invoked.
The UK market is in stark contrast to Germany, where cold telemarketing is outlawed. The law was changed in April 2010, meaning consumers have to opt in to receive marketing calls, negating the need for a TPS-style service. It also states caller IDs must be displayed. Non-compliance can trigger fines of up to €50,000.
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