TELEMARKETING: CONTROLLING THE COWBOYS - New European regulations aim to end the worst excesses of unscrupulous telephone marketers, Robert Gray writes

By ROBERT GRAY,, Friday, 18 June 1999 12:00AM

The day has been long and stressful. You’re in the bath unwinding, perhaps a with a glass of wine perched on the side and mood music playing in the background. The house is empty and, for the first time in hours, you’re starting to relax ... and the phone rings.

The day has been long and stressful. You’re in the bath unwinding,

perhaps a with a glass of wine perched on the side and mood music

playing in the background. The house is empty and, for the first time in

hours, you’re starting to relax ... and the phone rings.

You leap out of the tub and scurry towards the ringing, dripping as you

go, a towel plastered inelegantly to your wet skin. This might, after

all, be the important personal call you’ve been waiting for. You snatch

up the receiver to hear the dreary tones of Denise from Derek’s Dodgy

Double Glazing trying to flog you replacement windows. You feel you’d

quite like to flog her instead, express your lack of interest in the

transaction and hang up. As you do, you fleetingly think to yourself:

wouldn’t it be nice if they passed a law to stop this sort of thing.

Well, they have. Concern across Europe over telemarketing abuses has led

to a tightening up of the regulations in order to protect consumers.

On 1 May 1999, the provisions of Article 12 of the EU Telecoms Data

Protection Directive came into effect in the UK. These duplicate some

areas of the existing UK legislation, but also bring into force new


For the first time, consumers will be able to opt out of receiving

direct marketing calls by registering with a Telephone Preference

Service (TPS) backed by legislation. Although a TPS run by the Direct

Marketing Association has been in existence in the UK for the past four

years, it only now has statutory backing.

The DMA will continue to operate the TPS, having been officially

appointed by Oftel after a competitive pitch, and will transfer to the

new service the 280,000 numbers it already has registered. Consumers can

opt out from receiving telemarketing calls simply by phoning 0845

0700707 and giving their details.

’It now becomes unlawful to make a direct marketing call to any

individual who has registered with the Telephone Preference Service,’

Colin Fricker, DMA director of government and legal affairs, says. ’The

way you can be sure you are not breaking the law is to check with the


In order to do this, businesses must pay a licence fee. The size of this

fee is determined by the frequency and amount of information required by

each business, and ranges from pounds 100 to pounds 7,500.

Article 12 also reinforces the right of consumers to notify callers that

they do not wish to receive further calls from them - this was already

considered to be ’unlawful processing’ under the terms of the Data

Protection Act 1984.

The DMA supports these regulations, recognising that the alternative to

opt out would be ’opt in’, whereby consumers could only be contacted if

they had previously expressed a willingness to be called by


’The alternative to these regulations is opt in,’ Fricker


’To be perfectly honest, that would be horrible. It would kill the

industry and it would threaten the freedom of communications, which is

essential for democracy.’

The hope among direct marketing practitioners is that the vast majority

of the public can be dissuaded from opting out because of the real

advantages to them of some forms of telemarketing. For example, car

dealers making contact to offer test drives of new models.

There will, unfortunately, always be a handful of cowboy outfits that

act irresponsibly. But the hope is that the regulations now in place

should be sufficient to deal with persistent transgressors. The DMA has

its own code of conduct (see panel) that its members are obliged to

follow. But aside from the EU Directive, there are other sanctions that

can be applied to non-DMA members.

A little known fact is that, under the Telecommunications Act 1984, all

phone users are granted a licence by the DTI. Breaching its terms - in

ways such as making unwanted or vexatious calls - can lead to the

imposition of fines.

The newly effective EU Directive Article 12 also prohibits the faxing of

unsolicited direct marketing material to individuals - a definition that

embraces sole traders and partnerships as well as consumers. Fricker

considers the scope of this definition as being ’draconian’ and warns

marketers they will have to be careful that they do not fax an

individual accidentally.

Finally, next year will see the implementation of further articles from

the EU Directive, including a change to the present situation whereby

marketers are obliged to inform call recipients when they are taping

their conversation. From then on, marketers will be obliged to ask for

consent to tape a conversation.

There has been talk of curtailing access to the electoral roll for

direct marketers but, even if this happens, it seems unlikely to be

applied to list cleaning, which responsible marketers carry out to

ensure they are not calling deceased persons or relying on other

out-of-date information.

’Marketing will become subject to tighter controls, most of which we are

quite happy about,’ Fricker says. ’The more respectful you are of a

consumer and his or her personal details, the more likely you are to

develop a good relationship with that consumer.’

That’s a message the cowboys won’t like to hear. Especially if you ring

them to tell them while they are in the bath.


- DMA members making sales, marketing or service calls must volunteer

the name of the advertiser at the beginning of the call and repeat this

information on request at any point during the conversation.

- The purpose of the call should be clearly stated at the beginning of

the conversation. Call content should be restricted to matters directly

relevant to this purpose.

- If a person is telephoned as the result of a referral by a third

party, they must be informed of this at the beginning of the call, told

the identity of the third party and given an opportunity to ask for the

call to be discontinued.

- There should be no evasion of the truth or misinformation. All

questions are to be answered honestly.

- Sales, marketing or service calls should not be made under the guise

of market research, a practice known as ’sugging’.

- Calls should not be made at unreasonable hours, ie between 9pm and


- Members should remain courteous and efficient throughout, shunning any

high-pressure tactics that could be construed as harassment, and

politely recognising the right of the other party to end the

conversation at any stage.

- All reasonable steps should be taken not to make outbound marketing

calls to minors.

- Members must block from their telephone contact lists those people who

have specifically requested not to be contacted by telephone.

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