SPICe FAQ – nuisance phone calls

Reading Time: 3 minutes

SPICe frequently receives enquiries about who regulates nuisance calls and how to reduce them. Nuisance calls are unwanted phone calls that attempt to promote a product or service to you.

Regulation of nuisance phone calls

The power to regulate nuisance calls lies with the UK Government. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) deals with unsolicited marketing calls, while Ofcom deals with silent and abandoned calls.

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

The ICO enforces the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. These cover the way organisations make live direct marketing telephone calls. The ICO has the power to fine those who break the law up to £500,000.

For example, Secure Home Systems Ltd was recently fined £80,000 for making calls to 84,347 numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service (see below) between September and December 2017.

You can report nuisance sales calls on the ICO website.


Ofcom handles abandoned and silent calls. Where someone is repeatedly making abandoned and/or silent calls, Ofcom may take enforcement action, and can fine the caller up to £2 million. For example, Ofcom fined TalkTalk £750,000 for making an excessive number of abandoned and silent calls to potential TalkTalk customers in 2011 through two of its call centre operators.

You can complain about abandoned and silent calls on the Ofcom website.

How to avoid nuisance phone calls

Telephone Preference Service (TPS)

To avoid nuisance calls, the first step is to register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). This is the official opt out register where you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. This is a free service.

The remit of TPS only covers live unsolicited direct marketing calls, so doesn’t include recorded and automated sales calls, including silent calls.

It is against the law for organisations to make calls to numbers registered with the TPS unless they have consent to do so. This includes charities, voluntary organisations and political parties.

Information on how to register with the TPS is included in its FAQs section.

Advice and assistance

Phone companies offer a number of services that can help block nuisance calls. Some of these services are free. But for some, monthly charges can apply, and may vary depending on what package an individual is signed up to.

Ofcom has a webpage on phone services that can help protect against nuisance calls.

The consumer organisation Which? suggests talking to your phone company as an option if you are still receiving unsolicited phone calls. It also lists Ten tips to stop cold calls. 

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) ran a Calling Time on Nuisance Calls campaign to support people to protect themselves from nuisance calls. The campaign ran for one week from Monday 11th September 2017.

Scam calls

With a scam call, the perpetrator intends to deliberately deceive their victim in some way. The intention is usually to trick them into parting with money or personal information. Scams are criminal offences and can be reported to Police Scotland and the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

Which? has identified seven common signs of a scam. If you answer yes to any of the seven simple questions, there’s a good chance it is a scam

If you report a scam to your local Citizens Advice Consumer Service, they may be able to offer you advice. They can also pass information on to Trading Standards to help stop other people from becoming victims of the same scam.

The UK Parliament’s Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 gave the Secretary of State powers to ban unsolicited marketing approaches in relation to pensions and other financial products.

From 9 January 2019 companies that make unwanted, unsolicited phone calls to people about their pensions may face enforcement action, including fines of up to half a million pounds.

The 2018 Act also bans unsolicited calls from claims management companies. New powers, which came into force in September, ban cold calls offering to settle personal injury or payment protection insurance claims if the claimant has not chosen to ‘opt-in’.

Action Fraud

You can report fraud or cybercrime to Action Fraud any time of the day or night using their online reporting tool. The Action Fraud website also has an A-Z of fraud for information about different types of fraud.

Scottish Government Nuisance Calls Action Plan

The Scottish Government set up the Nuisance Calls Commission following the Nuisance Calls Summit in June 2016. On 11 September 2017, The Scottish Government published its response to Scotland’s Nuisance Calls Commission. This outlined some steps aimed at protecting individuals:

  1. providing call blocking technology to vulnerable people
  2. raising awareness of protection options
  3. measuring the impact of interventions.

The Scottish Government announced a £50,000 fund to install call-blocking technology for those most at risk from nuisance calls, as one element of the action plan.

Trading Standards Scotland received funding from the Scottish Government for the provision of call blocking devices. These were allocated to older and vulnerable people in Scotland.

The Scottish Government commissioned research to analyse the impact of the actions set out. A report was published on 19 March 2018.


Miranda Jackson

Enquiries Officer