Nuisance calls are up there with spam emails and junk mail as one of the scourges of modern life. Whether it's an automated voice urging you to claim compensation for payment protection insurance or a message from an accident claims company, cold calls are insistent and incessant.
If you're sick of these unsolicited calls then you're not alone. A new report from AXA Insurance has found that one-in-five people receives a nuisance phone call each day. As someone who works from home for some of the week, I know that my landline rings at least twice daily with these unwanted advances. As for my mobile, there's a minimum of one compensation-chasing claimant on any given day.
Despite efforts by the government, insurance firms and consumer groups to crack down on this nefarious practice, the public is still being bombarded with more than 12 million nuisance calls every day. According to AXA, in addition to the one-in-five of us who are pestered day-in, day-out, a further half receive at least one call a week. Not surprisingly, the research found that a quarter of people feel stressed by the calls and nearly half are worried about how their details have been accessed.
In an effort to block these calls, I signed up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). This is the official central opt out register on which you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls, and it doesn't cost anything. It is a legal requirement that all organisations do not make calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so.
This weeded out the unrelenting messages about new boilers and solar panels but nothing else. So I bought a new landline phone with a built-in call-blocking gadget. To be honest, this doesn't seem to have made much difference either. I still get calls about PPI (I've never taken out this product) and accident compensation (I haven't been involved in anything of the sort for years). It's now at the point where I've given up trying to best these law-breaking firms and simply ignore calls on my home phone unless I recognise the number.
But there's a wider picture here. Yes, nuisance calls are incredibly annoying and it doesn't reflect well on the government that this pestilence continues unabated. What is even more teeth-grindingly irritating is the fact that thanks to 'ambulance-chasing lawyers', the cost of car insurance is being driven higher and higher.
AXA points the finger of blame at claims management firms. Amanda Blanc, chief executive of AXA Insurance, said: 'These companies have proven very successful at finding ways around legislation and some are operating at the edge of the law. Quite often they claim someone has been in an accident when they haven’t, which shows they are just making random calls to people. They are just fishing and that encourages fraudulent claims.'
Last year a record number of whiplash claims were made in Britain. AXA estimates that £90 of every motor insurance policy went towards paying these claims. 'The cost of car cover will keep rising if nothing is done,' Blanc added.
Where is the government on all this? In the slow lane, that's where. The National Audit Office found that companies that handle claims had taken between £3.8 billion and £5 billion from April 2011 to November 2015. Meanwhile, data from the industry watchdog, the Claims Management Regulator, recently found that such companies rake in more than £700 million a year – but said that just three firms had faced financial penalties.
It's been three years since the Ministry of Justice banned referral fees, which made it an offence for insurance companies and hospitals to sell the contact details of people involved in accidents. And there are new rules, introduced in 2015, that make it easier for the information commissioner to punish claims companies that breach data protection laws. These are nice, headline-grabbing measures but I see little evidence they have made any real difference.
Chancellor George Osborne said last year that the government will look to end the right to cash compensation, making it harder for people to be rewarded for exaggerated or fraudulent whiplash claims. But he's yet to do anything concrete. Given he has his hands full at the moment, don't expect any action soon.