HC 636-i

Written evidence submitted by BT [NTC 008]


1. BT welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the inquiry. BT takes the issue of nuisance calls very seriously and is constantly looking for ways to help customers manage calls. We are also working with many stakeholders including Ofcom, industry and consumer groups to establish ways to tackle this issue.

2. We have for many years provided customers with advice and information via our Nuisance Calls Advice Line and Nuisance Call Bureau and are working with organisations such as Which? to improve customer awareness and consistency of information. We also have a number of products that allow customers to manage their calls, including a new range of telephone handsets that allow customers to do this. We are also leading industry efforts to ensure that technical standards and processes support the effective tracing of nuisance calls and the reliability of calling information.

3. It is important to frame the problem we are addressing. A nuisance call is often thought of as an unwanted call. An unwanted call might however be legitimate; a ny particular call m ight be of value and interest to some customers bu t not to others. As we describe later there is already an enforcement framework in place to address the problem of nuisance calls. The problem is that this framework is not always effective and c ompanies that have no regard for the existing rules are the ones that require focus and they need to be traced and stopped.

4. BT’s experience shows this is a multi-f aceted problem and i t is clear that there is no one solution to the problem , but a suite of aligned solutions. Additional regulation alone is likely to limit the ability of legitimate companies while companies who consistently ignore the rules will continue to do so.

5. We are supportive of any changes that will help to trace the companies making these calls so they can be stopped. We believe that the solution lies in industry working together with regulators and consumer bodies to tackle this problem and BT is keen to continue to play a central role in tackling this issue.

What is a nuisance call?

6. T here is no one formal definition of a nuisance call . One person’s view of what is a nuisance call will be different to that of another. I t i s important to have a clear focus on the types of call s that need to be address ed in order to help ide ntify effective solutions and avoid giving any misleading impression to the public about what potential outcomes could be.

7. For the purposes of this document, p otential e xamples of nuisance call s are :

· Cold (where there is no existing customer relationship) marketing calls, such as payment protection insurance (PPI) claim sales, which may result from the use of call - centre autodialling equipment. Many, though by no means all, of these calls are made from international and / or withheld numbers

· Silent and abandoned calls – a result of companies using autodiallers and lack of agents to take the call .

· Unsolicited automated messaging - the us e of a pre - recorded message , rather than live speech , to deliver a marketing message to a customer wh o has not agreed to receive them.

8. Legitimate marketing calls also need to be considered, for example, where customers have previously agreed to receive marketing calls (and then forgotten), or where there is an existing customer/supplier relationship. In such cases it should be enough for those customers to ask the company concerned that it no longer calls them and removes them from its calling lists; this is what the law already requires.

The current regulatory system and its enforcement

9. Relevant rules already exist (as outlined below) and it is good to see Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s office (ICO) using these to take enforcement action, as well as issuing a joint plan in July 2013 to tackle nuisance calls. BT works closely with the regulatory agencies in addressing nuisance calls; our work supporting Ofcom’s efforts to trace calls and in supporting industry standards is outlined further below.

10. BT’s concern, however, is that enforcement of both privacy rules, Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and /or the Data Protection Act and the Persistent Misuse Policy (PM) can sometimes take far too long. A quick, effective enforcement regime is required. Companies choosing to hide their identities can and do change their name and numbers to avoid being caught, so the speed of action and the ability to trace calls across different network providers is key.

11. Two sets of rules to tackle nuisance calls can be confusing, especially for customers. Companies breaching one set can often be breaching the other too, eg, no consent (under PECR), or no valid calling line identity (CLI) displayed or recorded messages being left on abandoned calls (under PM), and yet only one set of legislation is used. Why not use both, especially if the ICO has more difficulty in always having to prove distress? We understand resource has recently been increased for both the ICO and Ofcom and we hope that this will be directed at taking timely action against companies who make nuisance calls and flout existing rules to stop the problem at source.

12. We are aware that the European Commission is carrying out a review of the Data Protection Directive and one of the proposals is to change the definition of ‘consent’. The draft Regulation is currently going through the European legislative process, and as a result the European Parliament is expected to reach an agreed position on its proposals later this year. Rather than focus additional resources at this time on issues already being discussed by the EU, such as consent rules, we would welcome more focus on co-operation and collaboration with cross-border regulatory agencies to help prevent unwanted calls originating from overseas.

T he effectiveness of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)

13. The TPS is a good and useful scheme valued by many of our customers. The lists provided can be an effective way for companies to manage their calling lists to remove any customers who do not want to be called.

14. It is important, however, to recognise the limits of such a scheme. Customers might mistakenly believe their TPS registration or opt out requests will stop all calls being made to them by companies; it will not. The TPS can only seek to prevent sales and marketing calls being made, not service messages. Perhaps more awareness may help to manage customer expectations.

15. Although the effectiveness or otherwise of the TPS has been called out as being an area of specific focus, we believe that there are many other areas of the E Privacy rules which are flouted by marketers, and which can cause just as much, if not more, harm if disregarded; automated calls about PPI and debt management being an example. Companies that flout the rules in one area are more likely to flout the rules across all areas, including those of the TPS, so any ineffectiveness in the TPS would be mirrored in other areas. The enforcement of the existing rules should be therefore looked at in all areas, not just TPS, to have any real effect. There is also the problem of operators making calls from outside the jurisdiction, and the associated problems of how to track and enforce all relevant UK rules, not just the TPS, to prevent the distress caused to UK citizens by these calls.

P ractical measures by communications service providers to curtail such communications.

16. BT supports the view that that technology alone cannot provide an ultimate solution to the issue of nuisance calls alone and therefore has developed and supports a strategy which also encompasses enhanced products, enforcement by regulators and industry-wide procedures which will help to trace the origination of these calls and stop the problem at source.

17. Products and services from BT to help customers manage calls

- Anonymous Call Reject , which allows customers to block calls from callers in the UK who’ve withheld their phone number

- Choose to Refuse , which allows customers to block incoming calls from certain numbers

- Caller Display , which lets customers see the number that’s calling before answering so they can decide whether to pick up the phone or ignore unwanted calls

- BT Privacy at Home , a service that includes free Caller Display and registration with the Telephone Preference Service

- Call Sign , which provides an additional number with a different ring tone. Customers can give this number to family or friends to distinguish between incoming calls

- BT Answer 1571 , a voicemail service for callers to leave a message if customers don’t answer the phone

- BT 1471 , the number to dial to check the last person who called.

BT 6500 and next-generation phones

18. In January this year we launched our new phone, the BT6500. This has proved very popular with consumers and was positively received by the media including Which?. Along with other functionality it allows customers to block up to 10 numbers. We have just extended this phone range, with a ‘big button’ version. We continue to assess ideas for next-generation nuisance call blocking phones. It’s our aspiration for all our phones to be able to block as many unwanted calls as possible.

Displaying the number of calls from abroad

19. From autumn 2013 customers will, if required, in addition to the wording INTL, start to see the CLI of calls from abroad. Our plan is, as exchanges are upgraded, to roll out this facility to all customers by autumn 2014. This network development will allow customers to screen their calls more easily and recognise the numbers of friends and family calling from abroad. It will also readily provide CLI /data to help customers report their calls to the regulators.

 Nuisance call industry forum

20. To help and support better enforcement BT has led industry efforts by setting up an industry forum to help raise awareness and gain better collaboration from other CP s . In November 2012 we set up a Nuisance Call Industry Forum , which highlight ed the issues of nuisance calls and gain ed b etter Industry engagement and co-operation. The forum , which is mad e up of telecom CPs as well as some regulatory stakeholders such as the Direct Marketing Association, Ofcom and the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator is focusing on coordinating activities such as: i ndustry engagement, d ata c apture and s haring of i nformation, i ndustry wide call - tracing process, and revision of NICC guidelines, c ross -b order i ssues, c ustomer awareness and consistency of i nformation.

Data capture & sharing trial /Call Tracing

21. BT supports efforts to improve call tracing to help address the problem of nuisance calls at source. For example, we led a data capture and information-sharing trial, where complaints data was passed to Ofcom on a daily basis. The data from the trial has been collated and the learning from this exercise is being used by NICC (The technical standards body for the UK) to agree a call-tracing process.

22. We also instigated the work now being undertaken by industry and NICC to carry out a review of the existing CLI technical standards and processes to improve the tracing of calls and to update existing guidance on the use of phone numbers. A call-tracing process is being drafted that will task CPs to trace calls back through the network to their origination.

23. In parallel to the work NICC is doing, BT Wholesale, along with Ofcom, is setting up an ‘Interconnect’ group that will be chaired by the Office of the Telecoms Adjudicator (OTA). The group will draw on industry interconnection expertise and address process and contractual aspects of nuisance-call identification and what commercial/regulatory arrangements could be put in place to support the tracing process and make sure CPs comply with the process.

Empowering customers: consumer awareness website, NCAL and NCB

24. A key part of our strategy is ensuring that our customers know where to go to get information and support on how to deal with nuisance calls. This has a number of aspects:

Nuisance Call Advice Line /Nuisance Call Bureau

25. BT provides a Nuisance Call Advice Line (NCAL) ( 0800 661 441) and Nuisance Call Bureau (NCB). These teams continue to provide practical advice to the UK public and BT customers on how they can minimise any potential calls and information about the products and services available to help them manage the calls they receive.

26. The work the NCAL do es is also supported by a recorded advice line and our ‘unwanted calls’ website. Customer can access the following information or request the following hard-copy publications from our advisers , which describe services and products that we offer , as well as give advice about dealing with nuisance calls :

· BT Code Of Practice (page 8-9 )

· Nuisance call booklet


· Unwanted calls information ( www.bt.com/unwantedcalls)

· Including You, BT’s guide for people who find communication more challenging (www.bt.com/includingyou)

27. During May this year we recommended to Ofcom a trial (as described in para 21 ) where CPs collect and send customer complaint data direct to Ofcom. The aim was to make it easier for customers to report a call to the right regulator and save them time (similarly to the site W hich ? has just launched to capture complaint information) . It also provided Ofcom with collective data from all CPs so a broader view of the types of calls could be seen and help them identify trends and where action may be required.

Raising consumer awareness

28. We are working very closely with consumer bodies (eg, Customer Forum Communications, Consumer Panel, Which?) to explain what services are available and what industry and BT are doing to help. We have agreed with Which? to link to its complaints portal.

29. As part of the Industry Forum we are discussing and seeking commitment from members as to the feasibility of CPs, ensuring that they have a standardised ‘minimum set’ of information available for end-users (with CPs adding as they individually see fit).

30. Minimum set of information to include:

a) how customers can contact the CP if they have concerns over nuisance sales and marketing calls

b) a direct link to the TPS service provided by the DMA and the new Which? reporting portal

c) regulatory bodies where customers can formally register a complaint about specific calls

d) provide some high-level call handling advice (i.e. good / bad things to say when answering such a call)

e) highlight any network services / features that are currently available (i.e. network features, hardware options).

31. Additionally we are active members of wider working parties such as the DMA’s Unsolicited Voice and SMS working party and the ICO’s Operation Linden, where we represent BT and the work of the industry forum and have been requesting a joint campaign to raise customer awareness.

Cross - border engagement

32. Nuisance calls can originate from many different countries. To stop illegal sales and marketing calls into the UK and make sure accurate CLIs are passed through the network regulation in all countries needs to be enforced. To do this, regulators need to have strong cross border links. BT has raised this with Ofcom , which agree s this is necessary. BT responded ( 16 Nov 20 12 ) to the ‘A harmonised BEREC co- operation process’ consultation and proposed that the scope of fraud and misuse was increased to include the number of cross border "nuisance calls and texts" sent in vast volumes. We feel this is a step forward in raising the nuisance - call issue and encouraging regulatory cross border co-operation. We would like to see the regulators build on this and we will continue to encourage stronger links.

August 2013

Prepared 4th September 2013