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Ofcom Records Drop in UK Nuisance Calls, But Problems Remain

Monday, May 4th, 2020 (11:34 am) - Score 756

A few years ago Ofcom nudged UK broadband ISPs and mobile operators to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Nuisance Calls, which committed them to develop technical measures for “reducing the impact of unlawful nuisance calls on consumers.” The latest data shows an improvement, but not as much as we’d like.

Nuisance calls generally include marketing calls (live and recorded), silent calls and abandoned calls. Since 2013 Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have been working pro-actively to tackle such calls via new regulation and better enforcement. The major telecoms operators have also implemented new systems to help filter out and block such calls, most of which have now been running for at least 3 years and some even longer.

The latest research, carried out in January 2020, shows that the proportion of adults with a landline telephone who experienced a nuisance call has “generally followed a downward trend over the last three years“, falling from 61% in May 2017 to 39% in January 2020 (a decrease of 22%).

By comparison the proportion of adults with a mobile phone who experienced a nuisance call has fluctuated over time, reaching a high of 47% in May 2017 and a low of 37% in January 2019 and January 2020. Unfortunately this problem remains significant one and it’s clear, when you examine Ofcom’s actual chart rather than just their summary, that there can be an almost seasonal variation.


The regulator’s report also notes that the ICO received a total of 129,354 complaints during 2019 about nuisance contact, a year-on-year increase of 4,991 complaints (+4%) since 2018. Despite this slight annual increase, Ofcom actually saw a decline in complaints, comparing year-on-year data from mid-way through the year (47,517 from August – December 2019 vs 63,012 between August – December 2018).

The regulator said the aforementioned decline is likely the result of an “artificial increase” in complaints from June 2018 to August 2019, following the introduction of GDPR [new privacy law] and the cold call ban against claims management companies, which received media attention at the time. Looking at longer term trends, the total number of complaints received has decreased by 22% since 2015 when 166,663 complaints were made


In 2019, the ICO also issued 13 fines totalling £1,060,000. The largest fine, of £160,000 was against ‘Making It Easy Limited’ for making 856,769 unsolicited live marketing calls. The ICO also issued fines of over £100,000; two of which were in relation to unsolicited text messages and one in relation to unsolicited live marketing calls; perhaps ironically one of those was BT sibling EE (here).

Ofcom notes that they themselves also contacted 11 telecoms companies last year, whose numbers appeared to be generating high levels of consumer harm. “We required them to provide explanations for the high volume of complaints and what action they would take to tackle the issue. This led to significant reductions, ranging between 28-41% in complaints recorded against the telephone numbers for certain companies and, in some cases, withdrawal of the sub-allocation of the numbers from the company generating the nuisance calls,” said the regulator.

Ofcom Statement

Nuisance calls are an unwanted interruption to our daily lives. They can also cause anxiety and distress, or result in customers being scammed by fraudsters. So while it’s encouraging that progress is being made, there is still much more to do to make sure people are protected from harm.

Today’s action plan therefore summarises our ongoing technical work to tackle the problem, including blocking nuisance calls at source, as well as the coordinated effort by the banking and telecoms industry to tackle scams, led by Stop Scams UK. The update sets out the ICO’s and Ofcom’s joint priorities for the coming year.

The ICO and Ofcom are also aware of reports of scams related to Covid-19 and are working to help protect customers against these.

Broadly speaking Ofcom’s plan is to maintain their approach and continue to build on that over the coming year, although they aren’t very specific with what more can be done. One big challenge remains those calls that come from outside of the UK’s jurisdiction, which have numbers that can change like the wind in order to circumvent blocking systems.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Sayers

    Until Mark posted this article I hadn’t been receiving nuisance calls a though, mainly because we haven’t had any of late, I guess Ofcoms plan is taking effect.

  2. Avatar joe

    yes I’ve had all but none since xmass for whatever reason

  3. Avatar a welshman

    about 6 weeks ago had a mobile number call us and left a message saying the police were on their way to arrest us on behalf of hm revenues and custom and our case has been handed over to a case handler and we should press 1 to speak to them. no option was pressed and the number blocked ,well after about 2 hours and no sign of the plod another mobile number rang with the same message and 3 more times in the following days all from slightly different mobiles …all blocked and reported to bt and hmrc

  4. Avatar Mark

    It has gone down, probably only about 10 a week now, but the call blocker and settings on our land line means the phone doesn’t ring, it’s just on the call history,

  5. Avatar Chris

    Reading this I was just thinking I’m not aware of any live or automated junk calls for 6 weeks on either the home landline or mobile – nor the vast majority of “dubious value” sales calls at work, interestingly the first week of the initial “soft” lockdown was call after call so I assume all those people are furloughed.

  6. Avatar Corrie Rayner

    We are registered with TPS, but still received many calls over the past few years. Only when lockdown began, there was a temporary lull. But guess what, for the last few days it has now started again! Can these companies not be shut down until we are back to normal? This is a totally unnecessary service that nobody misses!

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