The government has launched a consultation on plans to make it a legal requirement for anyone making calls for the purposes of direct marketing, including charities, to display their telephone number on caller ID.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport is proposing an amendment of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, by means of secondary legislation, so that direct marketers would have to provide valid "calling line identification" when they make calls. The DCMS said in a statement that this would deal with the nation’s "scourge" of nuisance calls.
The Institute of Fundraising began requiring fundraising agencies and charities, wherever possible, to use telephone numbers that could be identified by the recipient when it amended its Code of Fundraising Practice in November.
The new plans would require individuals and organisations that make or instigate direct marketing calls across every sector to do so from identifiable numbers.
The consultation document indicates that the proposal would apply to those promoting the aims of not-for-profit organisations such as charities.
The DCMS said its proposal would improve consumer choice by making it easier for people to refuse and report unwanted marketing calls and make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate and take enforcement action against callers that persistently and deliberately break the rules.
It said that after the six-week consultation ended, it planned to introduce the measure in the spring.
The department said that those found breaking the law by making nuisance calls could be fined up to £500,000, depending on the type of calls they made and the severity of the case.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the data protection minister who is responsible for the government’s policy on nuisance calls, said: "Being pestered by marketing calls is annoying at the best of times and at its worst it can bring real misery for the people on the receiving end. There is no simple solution to the problem of nuisance calls, but making direct marketing companies display their telephone numbers will help consumers and regulators take action."
Asked to comment on the government’s proposal, Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and research at the IoF, said: "It’s really important that fundraisers calling members of the public do so from an identifiable number. This matters because we know that some people find it unnerving to receive a call from a number that they can’t see, and also to give people the ability to return the call if they miss it. That’s why we introduced a new requirement in the Code of Fundraising Practice last year to cover this issue."
The code now states that "fundraising agencies must make every fundraising call using a telephone number which can be identified by the recipient and to which the recipient can return the call" and that charities must also do this "wherever possible".
But its guidance on the rule says there might be exceptional circumstances in which this would not be possible, such as when calls are made from within an NHS hospital where caller numbers are automatically withheld.
Mike Lordan, head of external affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, welcomed the proposals. "This will help to drive out nuisance and rogue callers, and help consumers plagued by rogue callers to complain to the Telephone Preference Service so they can in turn be effectively prosecuted by the Information Commissioner," he said.
The DCMS consultation closes on 23 February. Respondents are asked to indicate whether they agree with the government’s proposal and whether there are any costs or benefits that should be considered before a final decision is taken.