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Nuisance Calls and Texts Tumbled 20% in 2020

Nuisance calls and texts tumbled 20% in 2020, Quadient Freedom of Information request reveals
Complaints to Information Commissioner’s Office nosedived 76% year-on-year in April, but soared by 60% in December as nuisance callers adapted to pandemic

The number of nuisance calls and texts reported by UK consumers dropped 20% year-on-year in 2020, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Quadient has revealed. The figures cover both attempts by legitimate organisations to contact customers and attempts by spammers or scammers to reach individuals. Across the year, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) received a total of 103,733 complaints about nuisance calls and texts – down from 129,354 in 2019. The results show that the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect, both on the number and timing of complaints, and the channels used to contact consumers.

The data shows:

» Complaints dramatically fell at the start of the pandemic

The ICO reports year-on-year dips in the number of complaints about nuisance calls during the first lockdown – down 52% in March, 76% in April and 65% in May, presumably as contact centre closures or even furloughs meant organisations simply couldn’t manage the same volume of calls.

» Callers and texters redoubled their end-of-year efforts

The number of complaints rose year-on-year by 27% in October, 28% in November and 60% in December. This suggests that, whether legitimate businesses or spammers, organisations had adapted to the pandemic, and this combined with a population trapped at home during the second lockdown created a much higher number of calls and complaints.

» Nuisance calls down, but nuisance texts up

In 2020, the ICO received reports about 40,472 live nuisance calls (down from 56,324 in 2019), and 48,041 automated calls (down from 58,425 in 2019) – likely because the pandemic made making and recording calls much harder. Conversely, text messaging operations appear to have been easier to set up: UK consumers complained about 15,220 text messages over the course of the year, up from 14,605 in 2019.

Andrew Stevens, Principal, Banking and Financial Services, Quadient, said,

“Despite the overall drop, the sheer number of complaints made in 2020 still makes for sobering reading. Not every call will be from a spammer or scam artist, but even legitimate businesses need to be careful they aren’t crossing the line into nuisance calling, especially when a growing number claim to be ‘customer-centric’,”

“To put the figure into context, imagine somebody touring the UK to make a nuisance call or text from every single phone booth and bank branch up and down the land – for all their efforts, this person would still fall short of the figure reported by the ICO.

“One particular worry is the steady rise in complaints at the end of the year. It’s been a difficult time for businesses, but many of their customers have also been struggling. Businesses must focus on providing support to people who need it, who may need access to information straight away for important purposes. For example, people with questions about emergency loans will have desperately needed clear, straightforward and quick communication with their bank. When many consumers are likely to be feeling emotionally fragile, they require quick responses to questions or proactive updates about important information. The last thing they need is to be bombarded with irrelevant or upsetting calls and texts.”

Other findings in the FOI data included:

» Banking was the sector with the biggest rise.

Nuisance contacts from accident claims companies made up almost a quarter of the complaints (23,205), but banking saw the biggest jump in complaints: rising 35% against 2019. This is concerning as many consumers needed urgent assistance from their banks this year, and visiting physical branches was not always possible. A loss of trust in banks’ communications could harm both banks and their customers.

» The flood of Covid-19-related spam calls never came.

2020 was defined by the pandemic, so people might have expected some businesses and scammers to sense opportunities to sell pandemic-related products and services, or attempt COVID-focused scams. However, there were only 378 complaints about COVID-19-related contact: only slightly more than the number of complaints relating to adult content (358).

» PPI calls and texts still have not stopped.

412 UK consumers complained to the ICO about PPI calls and texts. Considering the deadline for PPI claims passed in August 2019, we can safely assume that these were either scams or data gathering exercises.

» Insurers were a shining light for the financial services industry.

Although banks performed poorly, complaints related to insurance fell by 25%. This is positive news because the pandemic led to many people needing to make a claim, or check their policy was still valid – clearly insurers are getting key information to customers, rather than irritating them.

“While the overall reduction in complaints is positive news, the figures will only continue to fall if businesses are as targeted as possible. The rise in complaints over the last three months of the year reflects a danger that nuisance calls and texts will return to their previous levels, rather than continue falling,” Stevens concluded.

“We can’t do anything about spammers and scammers, but there are steps legitimate businesses can take.  To be helpful, rather than an annoyance, businesses must follow customer preferences, such as contacting by email rather than phone, and ensure all relevant information is to-hand for customer service teams, regardless of the channel they’re covering. This will put them in a great position to have a healthy long-term relationship with customers, rather than risking a painful break-up.”

2020 results by date
Live Auto Text Total
Jan-20 3,146 3,989 1,244 8,379
Feb-20 3,243 4,484 1,264 8,991
Mar-20 2,328 3,228 928 6,484
Apr-20 769 1,025 866 2660
May-20 1,254 1,936 946 4,136
Jun-20 2,239 4,552 1,144 7,935
Jul-20 4,013 5,266 1,024 10,303
Aug-20 3,655 4,103 1,122 8,880
Sep-20 4,999 4,554 1,569 11,122
Oct-20 5,605 5,634 1,892 13,131
Nov-20 5,178 5,325 1,896 12,399
Dec-20 4,043 3,945 1,325 9,313
Total 40,472 48,041 15,220 103,733
2020 results split by industry
Topic Live calls Auto calls Text messages Total
Accident claims 12,359 10,343 503 23,205
Adult content 63 35 260 358
Banking 1,380 2,524 2,463 6,367
Broadband, phone, TV or other telecoms services 4,335 8,455 1,333 14,123
Call blockers 320 47 17 384
Charities 97 22 46 165
Competitions 159 105 481 745
Computer scams 704 627 433 1,764
Covid-19 95 33 250 378
Debt management 879 466 557 1,902
Energy saving and home improvement 3,096 955 99 4,150
Energy supply  1,678 564 113 2,355
Gambling 254 21 1,094 1,369
Health 162 58 417 637
Holidays 160 17 113 290
Insurance (including car, life and home) 2,414 316 111 2,841
Lifestyle surveys 1,165 46 44 1,255
Oven cleaning 34 624 12 670
Payday loans 85 17 269 371
PPI 302 41 69 412
Pensions 196 26 22 244
Silent/no answer 954 1,712 63 2,729
None of the above 8,083 17,493 6,092 31,668
Total 40,472 48,041 15,220 103,733
2019 results by date
Live Auto Text Total
Jan-19 4,266 5,236 1,268 10,770
Feb-19 4,691 6,167 1,114 11,972
Mar-19 5,461 6,775 1,318 13,554
Apr-19 5,130 4,645 1,303 11,078
May-19 5,491 5,118 1,096 11,705
Jun-19 4,618 4,592 1,073 10,283
Jul-19 5,671 5,379 1,425 12,475
Aug-19 5,141 4,986 1,266 11,393
Sep-19 4,470 4,589 1,222 10,281
Oct-19 4,703 4,274 1,336 10,313
Nov-19 4,233 4,344 1,123 9,700
Dec-19 2,449 2,320 1,061 5,830
Total 56,324 58,425 14,605 129,354
2019 results split by industry
Topic Live calls Auto calls Text messages Total
Accident claims 18,671 18,769 533 37,983
Adult content 66 37 167 270
Banking 1,205 2176 802 4183
Broadband, phone, TV or other telecoms services 6,115 16,959 575 23,649
Call blockers 636 44 25 705
Charities 116 15 48 179
Competition 255 119 500 874
Computer scams 1,224 1,092 223 2,539
Debt management 1,528 2,616 902 5,046
Energy saving and home improvement 3,256 428 182 3,866
Energy supply  2,800 581 200 3,581
Gambling 279 43 845 1,167
Health 338 47 615 1,000
Holidays 200 27 343 570
Insurance (including car, life and home) 3,066 492 234 3,792
Lifestyle surveys 1,777 64 53 1,894
Oven cleaning 103 1,515 18 1,636
Payday loans 126 54 593 773
PPI 1,443 189 422 2,054
Pensions 243 40 25 308
Silent/no answer 1,237 1,908 57 3,202
None of the above 9,503 9,144 6,764 25,411
Total 56,324 58,425 14,605 129,354

 

 

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