We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

Nuisance calls - how bad is the problem?

By Jon Barrow

Our unique research into more than nine million phone calls reveals the extent of the nuisance calls epidemic. And it's getting worse.

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

Nuisance calls have become an unwelcome part of modern life. To discover just how bad the situation is, we've teamed up with call-blocking experts trueCall and work with them to track millions of calls made to trueCall customers across the country. We then regularly analyse the results to learn more about the rate of nuisance calls in the UK.

Our latest finding, from autumn 2016, prove that the nuisance calls epidemic is even worse than anyone had previously thought. Our analysis of incoming phone calls over the last six months (April to September 2016) found that trueCall customers received an average of 25 unwanted calls a month. That's up from 24 per month in the preceding six month period (October 2015 to March 2016).

Shockingly our data also showed that 39% of calls in September 2016 were a nuisance. This means that four out of every ten calls people got weren't from their family or friends, but were unsolicited calls from telemarketers.

Discover the situation where you live with our interactive nuisance calls map

This volume of annoying calls, promising to refund non-existent payment-protection insurance or asking about an accident you never had, is awful enough. But as the graphic above shows, many people get more.

In fact, 10% of trueCall customers get more than 60 calls a month on average. That's two every day.

Vulnerable people targeted

As part of our analysis we also compared the data gathered by 658 people with a specialist trueCall box designed for older, vulnerable people, against 3,441 users of the standard trueCall unit.

Shockingly, in the last six months the vulnerable customers received an average of 41 nuisance calls a month – that's 64% higher than the rate for users of the standard box (who received 25 nuisance calls a month). And a quarter of vulnerable people got more than 60 calls a month.

These appalling figures show that companies are targeting older people, often calling again and again in an attempt to bully them in to signing up to services. And it's a vicious circle, as buying one unnecessary product is likely to result in the person being flagged as a soft target and their details then passed on to even more companies.

The impact of this cynical approach can be devastating, and the constant harassment can leave the recipient afraid to pick up the phone.

Nuisance calls in Scotland

Our analysis also showed that Scotland faces the greatest nuisance calls problem. TrueCall customers there received an average of 42 nuisance calls each month – that's 17 more than the UK as a whole. And again, the situation is getting worse, with the figure jumping up from 35 per month between October 2015 and March 2016.

Vulnerable customers in Scotland are especially hard hit, receiving an average of 52 nuisance calls per month (up from 41) and with 41% getting more than 60 such calls a month.

Our research

The figures in this report were analysed by trueCall and are taken from information automatically supplied by thousands of users of its call blockers. The data covers a three-year period from Jan 2013 to September 2016 and includes details on 9,075,075 incoming calls (with over 370,000 from April to September this year).

These devices monitor every incoming call. We think this is a more reliable way of measuring nuisance calls than the paper diaries used in smaller studies, though accept that those buying a call blocker may be doing so because they receive a high number of unwanted calls.

What can be done?

Our research makes it clear just how bad the nuisance call problem  is and shows that, while some progress has been made, the government and telecoms providers need to do more to bring it under control. Meanwhile, if you're bothered by lots of nuisance calls we'd recommend you back our nuisance calls campaign and sign up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

If you've already taken these steps a further option is to buy a call-blocking device. Our partner for this report, trueCall, makes these but it's not your only option.

Read our first look reviews of three different call blockers