The Golden Rules of Telemarketing

February 2022

How legitimate businesses avoid being ‘nuisance’ callers

My 83-year-old mum was recently called by someone trying to sell her a panic alarm. I’ve urged her to hang up on calls from anyone she doesn’t know, but she hails from a politer generation than mine.

He said, at her age and living on her own, she was at risk. I suspect the salesman elicited these details from her during the call. He urged her to have a panic alarm installed so she could alert family or a neighbour if she needed to.

Luckily, she told him she wasn’t quite ready to make a decision. Then she asked for his company name and phone number, so she could call back when she was.

You’re probably ahead of me here… of course he declined to give her this information.

It’s an all too familiar tale.

The call was, in my view, a disgrace. It shouldn’t have happened. I registered mum’s number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) years ago. However predators (and there are plenty of them) will always target the potentially vulnerable.

While nuisance calls are a key priority for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), with frequent fines issued, it’s a game of whack-a-mole. Take out one chancer, and two more pop up somewhere else. And being potentially tarred with the same brush isn’t, as the kids say nowadays, a good look.

What do legitimate businesses need to do to avoid falling foul of the rules?

The rules aren’t complicated. There’s really no excuse! Here’s a quick 5-point guide:

1. Live marketing calls to individuals

The Don’ts
    • Don’t call anyone who’s told you they don’t want to hear from you
    • Don’t call anyone registered with the Telephone Preference Service unless you’ve obtained their consent to do so (And yes, that will be UK GDPR level ‘specific, informed and unambiguous’ consent)
The Do’s
    • Say who’s calling – be transparent
    • Always display your number (or an alternative contact number) to the recipient of your call
    • Provide an address or freephone contact number if asked
    • Keep a list of those who tell you not to call them and screen numbers against it before you make calls
    • Screen your lists against the TPS (unless you genuinely have consent)
    • Keep records of consent (if you rely on it)
    • Carry out a Legitimate Interests Assessment (if not relying on consent)
    • Make it easy to opt-out / withdraw consent. Make sure call handlers know how to respond when someone wants to opt-out.

2. Remember sector specific rules

There are stricter rules if you are making calls about claims management or pension schemes.

  • Claims management services: you must have consent
  • Pension schemes: you must have consent unless:
    • you are a trustee/manager of a pension scheme; or
    • a firm authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority; or
    • your relationship with the individual meets strict criteria.

3. Automated calls

For calls made by automated dialling systems which play a recorded message the rules are also stricter. You must have:

  • Specific consent from individuals indicating they’re okay to receive automated calls
  • Calls must include your organisation’s name and contact address or freephone number
  • You must display your number (or alternative contact number)

4. Marketing/sales calls to business numbers

The rules are the same for calling businesses as they are for individuals. (See the do’s and don’ts above).

Just remember, if you don’t have consent, you should screen your list against the TPS and the CTPS (Corporate Telephone Preference Service). This is because some businesses (sole traders and some partnerships) may be registered with the TPS.

5. Understand the difference between ‘service’ and ‘marketing’ calls

The definition of direct marketing covers any advertising or promotional material directed at particular individuals. Telemarketing is absolutely in scope.

Routine customer service messages don’t count as direct marketing, but if you are treating it as a service call you need to be careful the script (or what your call handlers say in practice) doesn’t stray into the realms of trying to get customers to buy extra products, services or to upgrade or renew contracts.

It’s worth noting a Trade Union was recently fined £45k. Telephone numbers hadn’t been screened against the TPS because the union didn’t believe its calls were direct marketing. The ICO disagreed. Just because you believe you’re acting in good faith doesn’t mean you are. How did a Trade Union fall foul of the marketing rules?

What are the applicable laws?

The rules governing telemarketing calls in the UK can be found in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and are covered in ICO Telemarketing Guidance. As well as complying with PECR you should consider UK GDPR for your handling of personal data.

The rules can differ outside the UK, so if relevant its worth checking local laws. Many countries have a ‘do not call’ register similar to the Telephone Preference Service. The UK rules are covered in the .