29/10/2013 04:37 GMT | Updated 28/12/2013 05:12 GMT

The Harm Caused by Nuisance Calls and Texts

We all get them, nuisance calls and messages telling us things like "reclaim thousands", "write off your debts" or "get quick cash now". For the majority of people these are one of life's everyday irritations.

For others, however, these types of calls and messages have the potential to cause serious harm. Our research shows that 3.2 million British adults have been left afraid to answer the phone as a result of unsolicited marketing calls and text messages.

That's why today, we're launching our new report and campaign Got their number: Ending the harm caused by nuisance calls and texts.

Stress and anxiety

Over eight and half million adults in Britain say that unsolicited marketing calls or text messages make them anxious or feel stressed. The very fact that millions of people say that they are afraid to answer the phone, or that they have been left anxious or stressed, should be reason enough for action.

The problem of nuisance calls and text messages is a much broader issue and the detriment to consumers goes beyond the potential stress and anxiety.

Financial vulnerability

As a debt charity we see the impact that harmful financial decisions can have on people's lives.

We know that, increasingly, people seeking our help are struggling to meet their essential household bills like rent, energy and council tax. For those in such a position, the offer of a no questions asked payday loan offered via text or call may seem to offer a financial lifeline. The reality is that, for many, this type of borrowing will push them deeper and deeper into a cycle of debt.

Debt collection

While the current definitions of nuisance calls focus on marketing, we believe these need to be broadened to include elements of the debt collection process. We regularly hear stories of indebted people bombarded by calls and messages from lenders and debt collection agencies. The effects can often mirror those of nuisance marketing calls, in the form of stress and anxiety, or potentially harmful economic decisions.

Why is this happening?

We believe that underpinning the problem of nuisance calls and texts is a data protection regime that is simply not doing what it should, protect people's personal data. There is a market for people's personal information, but it's a market over which consumers have little control.

The safeguards designed to protect consumers are not working:

People often don't know when they have given consent for their personal information to be shared

Current legislation makes it difficult for regulators to fine firms that break the law

The unsolicited real-time promotion of high-risk credit products means financially vulnerable consumers are potentially being offered products that risk worsening their situation

Current consumer protection systems like the Telephone Preference Service, do not work effectively.

Action is needed

There is an epidemic of nuisance calls and text messages in Britain, and it is clear that the existing regulatory system is failing consumers, especially those who may be vulnerable. It is now time for government, regulators and consumer groups to come together to establish a comprehensive package of measures to ensure that the public is no longer subjected to these unwelcome, intrusive and potentially harmful communications.

To find out more about our campaign and to read the full report, visit the Got their number website. Or show your support on twitter #GotTheirNumber

StepChange Debt Charity is the UK's largest specialist debt advice charity. If you're struggling with debt, contact our helpline (Mon-Fri 8am-8pm and Sat 8am-4pm) on 0800 138 1111 or at