Cold calling and the law

What is cold calling, and is it legal?

A cold call is an unsolicited telephone call, visit or other communication, usually on the part of a business seeking to attract new customers.

Cold calling is not illegal per se. However, the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 imposes restrictions on marketing via cold calls, and unsolicited texts, emails and faxes. The 2003 Regulations require companies to obtain an individual’s consent before sending marketing communications to them.

Different rules apply to different types of communication, and the rules are generally stricter for marketing to individuals than for marketing to companies. We focus here on direct marketing aimed at individuals.

When is cold calling illegal?

Use of automated calling systems

An automated calling system automatically initiates a sequence of calls to more than one destination, and transmits sounds which are not live speech, and targeted at people at the other end. The 2003 Regulations prohibit the use of such automated communications for direct marketing purposes.

However, if a subscriber has given their explicit consent to a company to send them such communications, it is not illegal for the company to make automated calls to them. However, where the use of automated calling systems is permitted, the caller is required to provide their name and address, or free phone number. Their phone number must also be clearly displayed to the recipient of the call.

Use of fax machines

The 2003 Regulations prohibit a company from sending unsolicited marketing faxes to individuals, including sole traders, without their prior permission to receive marketing faxes from the company concerned. Faxes can, however, be sent to a company which has not registered its fax number with the Fax Preference Service register (see below). The sender of the fax must display their name and contact address or free phone number.

A company 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 when the fax was sent.

Use of unsolicited calls

It is not illegal for a company to make a ‘live’ cold call for general marketing purposes, subject to the following exceptions. The 2003 Regulations prohibits the use of live cold calls where:

  • The individual has made it clear they do not wish to receive such calls, or
  • The recipient’s number is listed in the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register (see below).

A person or company will not be deemed to have contravened the Regulations where the phone number has been listed with the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register for less than 28 days when the call is made.

Unlock this article now!


For more information on:

  • Use of unsolicited emails
  • Preference services
  • The Telephone Preference Service
  • The Fax Preference Service
  • The Corporate Telephone Preference Service