Few features of modern life are more irritating than the ubiquitous, relentless invasion of “cold callers” into our homes. The phone calls are disruptive. They come unsolicited and without warning. They are impossible to distinguish from calls that may be important. They are especially vexatious for older people and those caring for relatives. And curbing them has become well-nigh impossible without the extreme measure of going ex-directory.
So a new crackdown on cold calling due to come into force today is welcome, if long overdue. It gives greater powers for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to issue fines and penalties. Companies targeting people with nuisance calls and spam texts could be fined up to half a million pounds.
Consumer lobby Which? found that around four out of five people surveyed were regularly cold-called at home, with a third left feeling intimidated.
Boilers and solar panels remain two of the most complained about call topics, along with payment protection insurance (PPI), accident claims, debt, banking and lifestyle surveys. In many cases the calls are automatically generated, the recipient subjected to a marketing barrage and left with no means of reply – other than to terminate the call.
There were 15,642 complaints related to nuisance calls and texts made to the ICO in November last year alone, of which solar panels accounted for 2,377, whilst for PPI the figure was 1,830. So insistent are the PPI calls that many may well feel the figure of 1,830 pertains to them alone.
Since January 2012, the ICO has fined nine firms £815,000 in total for nuisance calls and spam texts, and a further seven companies were given combined penalties of £1,618,000 for abandoned and silent calls.
The ICO already had the power to issue £500,000 penalties – but only if it was able to prove that the marketing calls or messages caused “substantial damage or distress”. That requirement will now be removed to make it easier for companies to be pursued. The government is also considering measures to hold board executives responsible for cold-calling, following the Which? research.
Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said earlier this year that the rules around marketing calls “have been a licence for spammers and scammers, and people are sick of them”.
It will still, of course, be necessary for the public to report these nuisance calls. And, given previous declarations of “clampdowns”, it will still be necessary to the ICO to pursue complaints with the utmost vigour to ensure not only that miscreants are brought to book but also that the fines are sufficiently penal to act as a deterrent.
Privacy invasion is all too commonplace as it is without firms targeting unprotected customers with this invasive marketing. We hope the new rules will have the desired effect.
Myth of Mr Fixit is being debunked
Reports of the death of Do-It-Yourself – that traditional Easter weekend spoiler – may be exaggerated. But news that B&Q is closing 60 of its stores confirms growing evidence that it is on the decline.
Some may mourn the fact that 39 per cent of householders would not put up a shelf themselves and one in seven would have problems with assembling flat-pack furniture. Truth at last.
For generations, Easter has reverberated to the sound of electric drills, banging hammers, the slosh of paint on woodwork – and raucous arguments. Enthusiasts may lament the decline of home building. But DIY has arguably wrecked more homes than it has improved. It has brought couples to the brink of divorce. And it has in a disturbingly large number of cases, gently depressed the value of our homes.
Easter Saturdays were spent acquiring all manner of tools from B&Q – drills, saws, hammers, together with the full panoply of kit needed to turn the simplest painting task into an ordeal. No sooner had one wall been done than the rest of the house suddenly looked drab.
By Easter Monday we were lugging the damaged tools to the back of the garage. And, years later, we drove to the recycling centre to heave, with a resounding clatter, the entire pile of abandoned equipment into the skip marked “Discarded household items”. Only then did we feel the true, deep satisfaction of a job well done.
It may be a sign of more affluent households, prepared to pay a professional to do the job. But it is equally a measure of respect for our homes – and acknowledgement of our limitations – that we are abandoning the fantasy of being a heroic Mr Fixit.