Political debate on cold calling heats up
The controversial issue of cold calls and nuisance calls is rising up the political agenda as Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart has launched a Private Members’ Bill to tackle the issue. I joined him and consumer group ‘Which’ this week on BBC 2’s ‘Daily Politics’ programme to debate the issue which, according to new Ofcom data, has escalated to such a degree that the public now receive an average of two ‘nuisance’ calls per week.
The new Private Members’ Bill is aimed at creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the public to seek help and - among other measures - calls for a clear expiry date on consent to third party marketing and greater powers for regulators to punish businesses that break the rules.
While it may sound laudable, it seems a truism that a politician will always opt for a legislative solution first, when in reality we already have more than one piece of legislation governing different aspects of this issue and also two existing bodies raising the cudgels on behalf of the public - namely Ofcom and the Information Commissoner’s Office (IoC).
Both bodies are taking a stern approach to regulatory breaches and have demonstrated a capacity to act decisively by issuing fines against businesses that flout the law. The IoC issued its first fine for serious breach of the regulations concerning live marketing calls in March and has stepped up its policing of the issue with a number of subsequent fines, including a total of £225,000 levied against the two companies run by Nev Wilshire, the bombastic boss featured in BBC documentary ‘The Call Centre.’
Might it not make more sense for consumer groups, business and government to find more effective ways of policing current law with existing regulations and watchdogs - rather than spending time and money on adding a third entity into the mix - creating potentially yet more confusion for the long-suffering public? CCA Global Standard© also potentially has a role to play.
One problem is that there is considerable confusion over the terminology used - how do you define a ‘cold’ call or a ‘nuisance’ call? Is this consistent for all types of organisations? Ofcom provides guidelines but I wonder how many of you are totally clear on how their own outbound calls would be classified by a) the public and b) the regulator?
Unless you are crystal clear on these issues, you could end up making a costly error as different laws govern distinct activities including: live marketing calls, marketing text messages, recorded marketing messages, abandoned calls and silent calls.
A word of caution in the debate - we must take care not to vilify all ‘cold-calling’, it can and does lead to mutually acceptable deals with willing customers, both new ones and existing ones. Also, on a human level, is one of the toughest jobs going and the (mainly) young people who do it can be easily crushed in their first experience of working life. Spare a thought for them in the debate.
Also, it must be remembered that they are many kinds of ‘cold’ calls which are in fact very helpful - a reminder your insurance is about to expire, or you are close to your overdraft limit. Most often they come from brands which have earned consumers’ trust, an important issue these days. It would be wrong if this kind of activity were to be caught up in a new regulatory dragnet.
In the current climate, it behoves us all to think afresh about these issues. We welcome members’ views on this controversial topic.
Check out Anne Marie BBC’s Daily Politics Show this week via BBCi iPlayer - click here