Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and unsolicited calls

First the mellow fruitfulness - we seem to have gone from summer to autumn overnight.

One of the joys of moving to Orkney has been a lack of unsolicited phone calls.  In Newcastle, despite being registered with TPS and meticulously searching all forms for that tiny hidden box to tick or un-tick to deny permission for our telephone number/address to be sold to unscrupulous cold-callers we were plagued by them.  Most days we received more than one unsolicited phone call.  Exceedingly annoying when in the middle of a long row of complicated lace knitting to say the least!

Today, along with the mist - time to play 'spot the sheep' - I got a second unsolicited call in 2 days.  Both from a company offering free house insulation.  I'm not sure how much free insulation they think an old stone croft house with solid walls and built straight onto solid rock can use - but then these companies don't actually research who they contact.

Anyway, having pressed option 5 yesterday to get through to a human so that I could tell them we were registered with TPS and should be removed from their mailing list immediately, today it was gloves off.  I clicked 5 again so I could get the name of the company.  When I asked that they put the phone down.
So I went to the TPS website.  As I thought, unless you have the name of the company you aren't able to make a complaint.

Which is pretty frustrating when errant company puts the phone down on you when you ask for the name.  However, for the first time I saw the link to ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) and followed that up.  It appeared at first that I'd ended up in some catch 22 since it looked like I was being referred back to TPS, so I rang the enquiry number for ICO.  Which was an incredibly useful thing to have done because I got a very helpful gentleman who explained a lot about the system that I didn't know.  So this is what I'd like to share here because if enough of us act we can move forward the process of making it more difficult for these obnoxious companies to blight our lives and get away with it.

So, first important thing to know, TPS only covers calls made from within UK and made by a human being.  If the initial call is automated, even if you then click to speak to a human being, it's not covered by TPS.  That's point one in my letter to MP and MSP - TPS must be expanded to cover these automated calls and put the wishes of the public to choose not to receive these calls above the lobbying power of the cold-calling companies.

Second, as explained from the very helpful gentleman at ICO, they have never heard of anyone successfully being removed from one of these calling lists even after speaking to a human to request this.  So the advice is NOT to click the button to speak to a human.  Just put the phone down, dial 1471 to get the number, and use the form at ICO to report the call.  Choose the option of an automated call which ends up taking you here.

Next interesting thing I learnt is best explained in this blog post from ICO:  An effective regulator needs effective powers. 

The measures they are able to take are limited by current legislation.  So the more of us that contact our MPs, and MSPs for those in Scotland, the better.  There is a huge industry built around the annoyance and disruption of unsolicited calls and that means the cold-calling industry lobbying our MPs and delaying legislation to give us, the public, what we want and need.  So we need to put pressure on our public servants to put our needs first and get this legislation passed sooner rather than later.

I know from past experience that writing to my MP really does make a difference.  If you don't do anything else this week, please take a few minutes to make a difference for yourself and other people and write that letter or email to your MP.   Read the blog post from IOC first - it will take only a couple of minutes and enable you to put the appropriate content in your letter, asking for the threshold to prove substantial distress from a nuisance call to be reduced or removed.  We shouldn't have to reach the point of  'distress' in order to get unsolicited calls stopped.  This legislation needs to be changed NOW.

When I made my report to IOC today I could feel the sigh of relief that I was able to explain that rushing into the house to pick up the phone, thinking it was an important call I was expecting, meant I had to release the bantam I'd just caught.  Next job for me is to try and catch her again -  and it's Medusa, so that is an extremely arduous and distressing task!

Report back - Medusa has made herself very scarce and is nowhere to be seen.  I thought you'd enjoy seeing a photo of my escapologist bantam, but you'll have to make do with my youngest clutch of chicks, also running fast away from me.

Their broody mum is an extremely nervous and over-protective bantam, so I'm not attempting to train them to come to the bucket until they've left her and moved into the teenage chick housing in one of the fields.

My older chicks really enjoy living away from protective broody hens and hanging around doing the chicken equivalent of getting up late and imbibing questionable substances

So, to summarise, feel-good job for as many people as possible to do this week,  for the betterment of all our lives, is to read the IOC blog and then write to your MP.  Let's give IOC the powers to give the spammers the kicking we'd all like to deliver.