Unwanted Telephone Marketing Calls And The Law

One of the banes of modern life is being interrupted in your own home by a marketing call be it a real person, an automated call or even sometimes just silence. We might not like it but what is the law when it comes to such calls?

Does The Data Protection Act 1998 Protect From Nuisance Calls?

The major general piece of legislation in relation to data protection is The Data Protection Act 1998. It provides, among other things, for a right of access to persona data (section 7) and also that the data controller abides by a particular set of data protection principles. These include an obligation that personal data "shall be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes, and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes". They also provide that the personal; data "shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data."

Can I Ask A Telephone Company To Stop Marketing Calls To My Home?

More specifically in relation to marketing calls, section 11 provides that an individual can require a data controller "at the end of such period as is reasonable in the circumstances to cease, or not to begin, processing for the purposes of direct marketing personal data in respect of which he is the data subject." Then, section 13 provides that if an individual suffers damage by reason of a contravention by a data controller of any of the requirements of the Act, he or she would be entitled to compensation for that damage.

What Can Be Done To Stop Automated Marketing Calls?

The other big piece of legislation in this area is The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. Regulation 19 deals with automated calling systems and provides that "A person shall neither transmit, nor instigate the transmission of, communications comprising recorded matter for direct marketing purposes by means of an automated calling system except in the circumstances referred to in paragraph (2)." Paragraph 2 makes it clear that this is only allowed where the person being called "has previously notified the caller that for the time being he consents to such communications being sent by, or at the instigation of, the caller on that line." In other words, automated marketing calls need consent.

As for unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes by a person as opposed to a machine, regulation 21 prohibits this if the person whose line is being called "has previously notified the caller that such calls should not for the time being be made on that line". They are also prohibited where "the number allocated to a subscriber in respect of the called line is one listed in the register kept under regulation 26" (though it would not be in contravention if the number had only been on the register for 28 days).

Telephone Preference Service

Mention of a register is really getting towards a practical solution, at least for those callers within the jurisdiction of the Regulations. More details are provided in regulation 26 which provides an obligation on OFCOM to "maintain and keep up-to-date, in printed or electronic form, a register of the numbers allocated to individual subscribers, in respect of particular lines, who have notified them that they do not for the time being wish to receive unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes on the lines in question."

The register in question is the Telephone Preference Service. When you register your details with them then the ban on cold calls should come into effect 28 days later.

Information Commissioner

Aside from this, it is also worth knowing that it is the Information Commissioner who regulates both the Act and the Regulations mentioned above and to whose office complaints can be made in the event of any breach.

Other Remedies

Depending upon the circumstances, there may be other remedies available more generally for more serious nuisance calls. These may potentially include damages for private nuisance or even the criminal harassment jurisdiction. In addition to this there may be other practical steps such as complaining to your telephone service provider or even looking into a product which might block such calls.


The big difficulty is those calls which are outside of the jurisdiction of the various laws set out above and therefore difficulties are likely remain. But it is to be hoped at least that the above will not only empower the reader with the basics but also enable them to stop at least some of the calls which they might be finding so irritating.

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