Thursday, October 04, 2012

Liam McArthur tells Holyrood: Governments must work to protect people from nuisance calls

Quite often, MSPs at Holyrood debate things in a mature fashion. We don't often see it because it happens after hours or doesn't get the coverage because it's too civilised.

One of these moments happened on Tuesday night when MSPs debated a motion from Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney Liam McArthur on the subject of nuisance calls. This did get some coverage on the BBC, too. Liam told how nuisance calls are more than just inconvenient. They have a sinister side. A constituent of his, who has Dementia, was pressured into buying a broadband package despite not even  having a computer.

MSPs from all parties spoke in the debate, commending Liam for bringing it. Particularly alarming (sorry) was an account of how a constituent of Labour's Mark Griffin was subject to aggressive sales tactics during a call and was pressured into signing up for a burglar alarm with an expensive annual maintenance fee. He was able to advise her how to stop it but she should never have been treated that way.

There was a bit of a comedy moment when Tory Mary Scanlon spoke of being robo-called by Sean Connery asking her to join the SNP. "Did you?" said Nationalist Graeme Dey.

You can read the whole debate here and sign up to Mike Crockart's No to Nuisance Calls Campaign here.

Liam McArthur's speech is copied below in full.

In bringing this debate to the Chamber this evening, I’m painfully aware that it will strike many as a bit rich: politicians complaining about those who make nuisance calls.   Like most MSPs, I imagine, I have played my part in interrupting the odd family mealtime over the years – and not just in the McArthur household.

But the issues underlying this campaign are serious and deserve proper recognition, and so I warmly congratulate the Sunday Post for the leading role it has played in highlighting the problem of nuisance calls and texts.

My colleague, Mike Crockart has spearheaded the campaign at Westminster, but I felt it was important for this Parliament to make its voice heard in saying no to nuisance calls. 

I am therefore grateful to all those colleagues who have signed my motion and who will participate this evening: a show of support that demonstrates the cross-party nature of the campaign and nationwide extent of the problems created by nuisance calls and texts.

The aim of the campaign must be to bring an end, or at the very least significantly reduce the number of these calls and texts that are made.  I am hopeful this can be achieved.

In just over a month, more than 11,000 people have signed up to the campaign: testament to the strength of feeling about this issue. Many of my constituents in Orkney have got in touch to tell me how fed up they are of nuisance calls to their mobiles, home phones and to family members.  Not to mention the deluge of unsolicited texts.

Cold calling has been an issue raised at constituency surgeries for years. In the past, the energy companies were guilty of over-stepping the mark in a bid to persuade customers to shift supplier.  

Thanks to many local campaigns, most of the big six energy companies have now stopped doorstep selling.

But progress elsewhere has been slow.  I recently met a constituent, whose elderly mother, a dementia sufferer, was repeatedly called by one company and badgered to take out a broadband package.  She finally relented and signed up for the expensive offer - despite not even having a computer!
It took months to rectify the situation and get the money reimbursed.  But this case at least ended positively.  Many thousands more do not.

The bottom line is that people shouldn’t have to put up with this menace which puts many vulnerable and elderly people at risk of fraud. The calls and texts can seem threatening and intimidating; to many they are just as worrying as it would be were someone to appear on their doorstep unannounced and uninvited.

Astonishingly, there were 650 million silent calls made in the UK last year alone. This works out at around 50 nuisance calls a year for each Scot.  Across the UK, 3 million people will be scammed out of an average of £800 this year, as a result of obtrusive calls.

Something must be done about this and it seems clear that the measures currently in place to shield people from nuisance calls are not up to the job.

Like many, I know that I haven’t had a fall in the last 5 years; that I’m not entitled to PPI compensation and I certainly don’t want a pay-day loan.

But that doesn’t stop the offers coming thick and fast.  Even for those who have signed up to the Telephone Preference Service, it seems there is no escape.

According to Ofcom, complaints to the TPS about unwanted marketing calls jumped to almost 10,000 for the month of July. This compares to 3,212 in December 2011.

In an online poll of over 4000 individuals for Which? 76% of respondents said that despite signing up to the TPS they still receive lots of nuisance calls. Only 1% rated the service as excellent, most said that it made no difference.

The Sunday Post said recently:
“It’s clear from the overwhelming response we have had from our readers this problem plagues our daily lives. And yet regardless of asking for the companies to stop – and sometimes taking steps to halt them – the onslaught continues.

“The will is there from people to put an end to this once and for all. Now is the time for the Government to act on that will and strengthen existing legislation.”
The readers of the Sunday Post and the thousands who have backed the No 2 Nuisance Calls campaign want their voice to be heard. People feel under siege and it is time that we gave them the tools to fight back.
I believe it is time for the Information Commissioner’s powers be strengthened to take in all forms of unsolicited contact and for there to be single point of contact for any individual wishing to protect their privacy from unwanted calls, texts, fax or emails.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Information Commissioner’s Office that it was issuing fines of over £250,000 to two illegal marketeers who distributed millions of spam texts is evidence that, where it can, it will act.  But from the figures I have already quoted, it is clear that the ICO still lacks the tools it needs for the job.

Joint working between Scotland’s two governments can see progress made and I hope the Minister will now agree to work with his counterpart at Westminster in putting in place measures that will protect millions of Scots from nuisance calls.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I simply do not understand why we continue to allow this to happen, why we are so permissive about our telecoms contact.

If this was happening face-to-face; if pay day loan sharks or PPI insurance litigators were knocking on the doors of the elderly and vulnerable in our communities, then either running away or bullying them into making claims we’d be up in arms.

Just because the constant barracking, intimidation and hectoring happens after pushing buttons on a phone rather than pushing a door bell does not make it ok, or any less frightening to vulnerable people across Scotland.

And yet that is the everyday reality for too many of them. It cannot continue. It must stop.

I thank all those who have shown their support for this campaign, and my motion, and look forward to hearing what colleagues – and particularly the Minister – have to say.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

A small step might be to stop cold callers with-holding their number - particularly important for the silent calls - and indeed for there to be a requirement that they can be identified so redress can be sought.
I assume that this is probably more difficult than I have made it sound but it surely would not need legislation to require service providers to cut off the anonymity of nuisance callers.


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