THE BLOG

What's Worse Than a Tube Strike? Nuisance Phone Calls and Texts

06/02/2014 13:22 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

Every day at four o'clock I get a call to my mobile from an 0843 number. I know that if I pick it up I'll hear the monotone drone of an automated voice, probably telling me I have unclaimed payment protection insurance. If I don't pick up, I'll probably receive a blank voicemail message that I'll have to take the trouble to listen to if I want to get rid of the message icon on my screen.

I have no idea what my home phone number is because I never use it, and so if it rings I don't pick up because I know it'll be a sales call.

If this all sounds familiar, it's because nuisance calls are the scourge of a modern society that shares data, and lots of it. Phone numbers are the portal to consumers. They are traded like sweets in a playground, and given to telesales centres waiting to sell their wares on behalf of their clients.

Ofcom research has revealed that, last year, consumers got an average 8.4 nuisance calls over a four-week period - many of which were from PPI claims companies. Only 1% of unwanted calls were considered "useful" by people who received them.

Cold calls annoy the hell out of us, and we like automated messages and numerous unsolicited texts that we can't opt out of even less. Worst of the lot are nuisance calls and scams that swindle the elderly or vulnerable out of money. Frankly, despicable.

While several bodies - including Ofcom and the Communications Consumer Panel - are on the case, change can't come soon enough. Some Brits are simply too frightened even to answer their own phones. It is unacceptable that people are left feeling trapped in this way.

A number of providers have already taken steps to help protect consumers, such as enabling them to reject calls from anonymous callers. However, the majority of these services come with a cost. BT, for example, charges £4.50 for anonymous caller reject function and £3.70 for caller barring.

However, TalkTalk has just made its full range of anti-nuisance call services free. This is particularly welcome as those who rely most heavily on their landlines are often those who require the most protection, but can least afford to pay for it. It is hoped that other providers follow TalkTalk's lead and start to protect their customers from this scourge free of charge.

And just yesterday, BT launched a high-tech home smartphone - well high-tech for a landline phone anyway - with in-built technology that can block up to 80% of nuisance calls. Called the Home Smartphone S it can also access the internet, social media and radio using an Android operating system.

As we increasingly rely on our mobile phones over the landline, £170 for a smart home phone could be a lot to ask for many of us, but the launch of BT's gadget shows how big the problem is - we're having to build hardware to avoid unwanted calls!

For good advice, I'd recommend reading Ofcom's free online guide to tackling nuisance calls and texts.

The guide suggests registering your phone number with the Telephone Preference Service and gives details about how to lodge complaints - with the TPS and/or the Information Commissioner's Office for unwanted live telesales calls, and silent or abandoned calls with Ofcom for example.

The best thing we can all do, for the greater good of society, is to not lose our appetites for complaining about nuisance calls to the right bodies. Consumers hold all the power, and if we act collectively we can help eradicate the scourge of unwanted calls and texts even faster. So don't just ignore them, let's get moaning...