Telephone Preference Service

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The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is a UK register of domestic telephone numbers whose users have indicated that they do not wish to receive sales and marketing telephone calls.[1] Registration is free of charge. The service is paid for by the direct marketing industry. There is a similar service for corporate users, the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS). Similar services are available in other countries.

It is a legal requirement that companies do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS; however the TPS has no powers of enforcement.,[2] and a survey by Which? found that people registered on the TPS list received twice as many marketing calls as those not on the list.[3] Enforcement is the responsibility of the Information Commissioner, which until 2012 did not have suitable legal powers to act,[2] but in 2012 acquired the power to impose fines of up to £500,000, although enforcing the rules was not easy given the vast amounts of money that companies which flouted the rules stood to make.[2]

The TPS is the only such register that is enforced by law in the UK. It is regulated by Ofcom [4] and enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).[5] It is run by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the organisation grouping telemarketers, on behalf of Ofcom; neither Ofcom nor the Government provide any funding.

A loophole is that telephone subscribers who have at some time consented to be called—perhaps by filling in a long-forgotten Web form years ago with a box to tick "if you don't want to receive further information", or a firm of which the subscriber is a customer—may legally be called.[2] Calls purporting to be for "market research" are not covered.

The effectiveness of the TPS is limited. Enforcement is so lax that many organisations completely ignore it and do not check numbers.[2] There is no control over calls from outside the UK; many of the most abusive and sometimes fraudulent calls originate from overseas. A spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association—who run the TPS—said in July 2012 that it had received a dramatic increase in complaints from telephone subscribers cold-called by telemarketing firms, and that some firms simply chose to ignore the rules. The DMA sent between 1,000-2,000 complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office each month, yet no penalty fines had been imposed in at least 18 months.[2]

The similarly named Government Telephone Preference Scheme is quite different; it is a system used since 1952 by the General Post Office and its successor British Telecom for limiting outgoing calls from landlines if the telephone network is overloaded during an emergency; vital lines only are registered, and only they may make outgoing calls in an emergency situation.


Residential users have been able to register on the list since May 1999 under the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999. The list has statutory force under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. From 25 June 2004 corporate subscribers were also allowed to register on the list under Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2004. In 2012 the enforcement powers of the ICO and penalties were much strengthened.

Registration and complaints[edit]

Numbers can be registered via the TPS website, or by telephone,[1] and can take up to 28 days to become fully effective. Complaints can be made via the site. The TPS says that it "will then contact the company and warn them they are breaching the regulations and ask them to add your number to their own Do Not Call list."


Organisations are required by law to check numbers against the TPS list before calling.[6]


In addition to fines, the ICO publishes details of any formal action it takes against organisations on its website and in press releases. However, as of July 2012 no penalties had been applied in 18 months, despite 1,000 to 2,000 monthly complaints.[2]

Bogus TPS calls[edit]

There are companies that fraudulently call consumers from overseas and falsely claim to be the TPS or affiliated with the TPS or BT. They ask for credit card details to complete a registration to stop unwanted calls. They often claim that you previously gave your permission for this call. Legitimate TPS registration is free, and the TPS is the only legally enforced such service.

Unregulated Companies Charging For Their Service[edit]

The TPS website publishes a list of "unregulated organisations"[7] that purport to offer a service for which they charge the public. In an understated tone the TPS advises the public that: "our advice is NOT to pay them". TPS also lists the websites of these organisations many of which target related searches on Google with ads that seek to divert visitors from the TPS website to their own cash-collecting sites.

Unwanted calls not covered by TPS[edit]

Silent calls[edit]

Silent calls are generated by companies that make outbound calls using an automated dialler. Silent calls occur when companies have their dialling rate set at the wrong level and there is no operator available to speak. Silent calls, while not covered by TPS, can be reported to Ofcom.[8]

Automatic messages[edit]

Organisations that use recorded phone messages (robocalls) for marketing or sales calls must have prior consent from the subscriber. Unauthorised silent calls from an identified caller can be reported to the ICO.[9]

Market research[edit]

TPS does not cover genuine market research calls. Individual companies must be contacted and asked not to call a number. If the company continues to call, complaints can be made to the Market Research Society, who may be able to do something if the call was from one of their members.[10]

Calls from overseas[edit]

TPS will investigate unsolicited direct marketing calls from overseas made on behalf of a company that has a UK presence. Complaints about calls from companies with no UK presence can be made to the ICO.[9]

Debt collection[edit]

Organisations looking to recover debts are not required to screen their data against the TPS register. Such calls, in cases where they are not allowed, can be reported to the local Trading Standards Office.[11] Debt collection callers to a number for someone not at that number can be told not to call again; if they continue to call, the ICO may be able to help from a data protection perspective.[9]

Text messages[edit]

Text (SMS) messages are not covered by TPS. However, they can only be sent with your prior consent; complaints can be made to the ICO.[9]

Text alerts[edit]

Text messages sent to a landline not able to receive them can cause the telephone to ring several times. The TPS does not handle such issues; the telephone service provider can advise.

Fraudulent calls[edit]

Registration with TPS does not stop fraudulent calls, and TPS does not have the authority to investigate such calls. They can be reported to the local Trading Standards Office or the police.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b TPS Web site. Telephone number is 0845 070 0707
  2. ^ a b c d e f g BBC: Cold-call firms flout rules that block telemarketers, 2 July 2012
  3. ^ BBC: Nuisance telephone calls 'overhaul needed', 10 June 2013
  4. ^ Ofcom Web site
  5. ^ Information Commissioner's Office Web site
  6. ^ ICO guidelines for organisations making calls
  7. ^ unregulated organisations
  8. ^ Ofcom, reporting slinet calls
  9. ^ a b c d Reporting robocalls, etc., to the ICO
  10. ^ Market Research Society Web site
  11. ^ Trading Standards Institute Web site