Protecting your Privacy: preventing unwanted phone calls and other unwanted communications 

How should I get rid of intrusive phone calls, e-mails, text messages and faxes?

If you want to reduce the amount of unsolicited marketing you receive, take the following steps. Whenever you give personal details to a marketing organisation – when you buy something by mail order, for example, or fill in a questionnaire on the Internet – tick the box(es) saying that you do not want to receive further information from that or any other company. That will reduce the amount of unsolicited marketing communication you receive. However, if this idea doesn’t work, you need to take legal action against the concerned direct marketer.  

Dealing with intrusive phone calls

You are often disturbed just as you are sitting for dinner by phone calls from kitchen fitters, double-glazing companies and the like. You can take steps to stop people disturbing your privacy like this. The Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999 cover unsolicited marketing calls (called ‘cold calls’). They say that individual phone subscribers (but not companies) can opt out of receiving unsolicited direct-marketing calls.

To do this, you register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Once your details are listed with the TPS, direct marketers cannot contact you by phone. If they do so, say you are registered with the TPS and tell them not to phone again. If you tell a company this and are still getting marketing calls from its representatives after 28 days, you can complain to the TPS. You can also complain to the Office of the Information Commissioner, but you must show evidence.

Putting a stop to junk faxes

You have a fax machine at home. Lately you have started receiving unsolicited faxes advertising various products. The Telecommunications Regulations Act 1999, which covers faxes, say that individuals have to give their consent before direct marketing companies can send them unsolicited faxes. If you have not given consent, the sender of the fax is breaking the rules.

You can register with the Fax Preference Service (FPS), which works on similar lines to the TPS. A company that directs its employees to contact phone subscribers whose details are listed with the FPS infringes the Telecommunications Regulations 1999.  Some junk faxes give a number to fax to stop receiving further unsolicited faxes. Beware: the number given may be charged at a high premium rate.

Removing details from a mailing database

You bought a barbeque from a mail order company. Since then you have been inundated with advertising not just from that company but also from others. Please note that almost all reputable direct marketing companies belong to the Mailing Preference Service (MPS). A condition of membership is that they agree to remove addresses registered with the MPS from their files. Simply write to the company to say that you do not want to receive its advertising. The company is legally obliged to comply with your request. 

Unwanted text messages

Your son has a mobile phone, which he is always using to text his friends. He tells you that he gets advertisements by text and has shown you a few of them. Some of them even seem inappropriate for him. You can stop these text message advertisements. Unsolicited text messages are treated in the same way as unwanted emails – ‘spam’. The European Directive on Privacy and Electronics Communications 2002/58/EC says that you must agree to receive such messages unless you are a customer of the sender, when you must ‘opt out’. The information commissioner regards such messages as unsolicited phone calls under the Telecommunications Regulations 1999. To opt out of receiving such texts, you can simply tell the sender, but it is better to register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). 

More about Mailing Preference Service (MPS)

The MPS scheme is voluntary for advertisers, but it a requirement for the Direct Marketing Association’s code of practice that its members must screen their mailing lists regularly against MPS’s Mailing Preference File. The Information Commissioner supports the MPS.

How the MPS works

All members companies undertake to remove MPS registered addresses from their files. Look for the MPS logo in the advertisements.

When the MPS does not work

If you are a policyholder or a customer of a direct mail advertiser – for example, if you bought something from the advertiser’s catalogue or donated to a charity that uses direct mail – the MPS will not work. You must write to each company or charity to say you do not want to receive mail. Further, the MPS scheme will not stop unaddressed bulk mail or items addresses to ‘the occupier’. It will help only with mailings that are addressed to you.

How to register

Contact the MPS and register your surname and address. Registration lasts for five years.