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What is a cold call and is cold calling legal?

A cold call is an unsolicited telephone call or communication usually by a business who is seeking to attract new customers.  

Cold calling can in some circumstances be legal. However, since the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999 came into force restrictions have been placed on cold calls, unsolicited faxes and emails.

The Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999 created the Telephone Preference Service and the Fax Preference Service. There are now the following preference services:

The Telephone Preference Service

The Telephone Preference Service is a central opt-out register whereby individuals or sole traders can register their wish not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing telephone calls.  

The Fax Preference Service

The Fax Preference Service is a central opt-out register, primarily aimed at businesses, whereby individuals or businesses can register their wish not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing faxes.

The Corporate Telephone Preference Service

The Corporate Telephone Preference Service is a central opt-out register, whereby businesses can register their wish not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing telephone calls to either all their organisationís telephone numbers, or to certain numbers.

The registers are kept and maintained by OFCOM.

Since the Telephone Preference Service was sent up the law has been amended and the law currently relating to the Telephone Preference Service is contained in the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 as amended by the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2004.

When is cold calling legal and when is it illegal?

Use of automated calling systems

The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 prohibits the use of communications comprising recorded matters for direct marketing purposes by means of an automated calling system.  An automated calling system is a system which is capable of automatically initiating a sequence of calls to more than one destination in accordance with instructions stored in that system and transmitting sounds which are not live speech for reception by persons at some or all of the destinations so called.

There is an exception to this prohibition where the called line is that of a subscriber (the person who subscribed to the telephone service, for example a customer of BT) who has previously notified the caller that for the time being he consents to such communications.

Where the use of automated calling systems is permitted the caller is required to provide their name.

Use of facsimile machines for direct marketing purposes

The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 prohibits the transmission of unsolicited communications for direct marketing purposes by means of a facsimile machine where the called line is of an individual subscriber or a corporate subscriber who has previously notified the caller that such communications should not be sent on that line or where the fax number is listed in the Fax Preference Service register.

There is an exception where a subscriber has previously notified the sender that he consents for the time being to such communications being sent. Where a subscriber is listed in the Fax Preference Service register and has notified a caller that he does not object to such communications he is free to withdraw that notification at any time.

A person will not be treated as having contravened the Regulations where the fax number has been listed on the Fax Preference Service Register for less than 28 days preceding that on which the communication is made.

Where the transmission of faxes is permitted the sender is required to provide their name.

Unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes

The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 prohibits the use of public electronic communication services for the purpose of making unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes where the called line is that of a subscriber who has previously notified the caller that such calls should not for the time being be made on that line or where the number allocated to a subscriber in respect of the called line is listed in the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register. 

There are exceptions where a subscriber is listed in the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register but has notified a caller that he does not, for the time being object to such calls being made on that line by that caller. Where a subscriber is listed in the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register and has notified a caller that he does not object to such calls he is free to withdraw that notification at any time. 

A person will not be treated as having contravened the Regulations where the number allocated to the called line has been listed on the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register for less than 28 days preceding that on which the call is made.

Where cold calling is permitted the caller is required to provide their name and, if requested by the subscriber, either their address or telephone number on which they can be reached free of charge.

Unsolicited emails for direct marketing purposes

The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 prohibits the transmission of unsolicited emails to individuals for direct marketing purposes.

There are exceptions where:

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