Thousands of pensioners could be rid of nuisance calls after the government revealed it plans to give out free call-screening technology.
Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, said the special devices could be given free to those “at higher risk of financial damage and personal distress” from sales calls. The government is already analysing trials in Scotland to see how the new technology works aiming to roll it out to vulnerable households across the country within months.
The government is working with charities and technology businesses to work out a plan to best distribute the devices that block cold calling, with companies facing fines of up to £500,000 if they continue to contact people who registered not to receive marketing calls with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
Mr Vaizey said: “While call blockers are available on the open market for consumers to purchase, the Government is exploring options to provide free devices to people identified as being at higher risk of financial damage and personal distress as a result of nuisance calls.
“Individuals can register their telephone number with the TPS and there is no charge for doing so. The Information Commissioner's Office enforces the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 and has powers to issue monetary penalties of up to £500,000 against non-compliant firms.”
The move comes amid allegations last month that 92-year-old veteran poppy seller Olive Cooke died shortly after being “hounded” by requests from charities. Thousands of pensioners with landline telephones have to put up with persistent calls that offer legal action to claim against accidents or mis-sold PPI. Between April and June this year complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) reached 18,594 for live calls and 22,072 for automated messages.
Mr Vaizey's comments were made in response to a question asked in parliament. Also, a £3.5m package was announced by George Osborne in March to explore ways of protecting vulnerable people from nuisance calls.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said in a statement: “It's good news that the Government wants to do more to protect vulnerable people from the everyday menace of nuisance calls.
“We fully support Government plans to give those particularly at risk, including elderly people at home during the day, free call blocking technology.
“It shouldn't only fall to consumers to block these calls though. Regulators need to come down hard on firms that break the rules and senior executives should be held to account if their company makes unlawful marketing calls.”
There are already several call blockers available on the market that block unwanted calls, but could cost up to £95. Devices can come either preinstalled with a phone or can be bought separately.