Nuisance calls and texts see sharp rise during the pandemic

David Murphy

Nuisance calls and texts rocketed by 27 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Quadient has revealed. The request to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that the ICO received 131,491 complaints about nuisance calls and texts in 2021, compared to 103,733 the year before. This outstrips even the numbers reported pre-pandemic (129,354 in 2019).

By far the largest number of complaints were about broadband, phone, TV or other telecoms services, with 19,010 complaints, or 14.5 per cent of the total. Yet banking and energy savings nuisance calls also climbed steeply, while insurance – after seemingly improving in 2020 – rose significantly.

The stress of the cost-of-living crisis is only being compounded by the increase in banking-related nuisance calls. Complaints climbed 38 per cent – from 6,367 to 8,796 – in 2021.

There’s no cap on energy nuisance calls and texts. Complaints about messages from energy savings & home improvements and energy suppliers soared by more than half (54 per cent) in 2021, from 6,505 to 10,038 – peaking with 1,590 in November when the energy price cap first hit the headlines.

After a huge fall in nuisance calls and messages in 2020, insurers are now doing worse than they were pre-pandemic. Insurance-related nuisance calls and texts rose by 40 per cent, with 3,989 complaints.

In total, these amount to 15 nuisance calls or texts an hour, or one call or text every 4 minutes – and, with many calls and texts going unreported, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If these figures are anything to go by, businesses aren’t giving up nuisance calls and texts for Lent – March was once again the worst month for complaints (17,728).

“We’re beginning to see businesses return to normality – but it appears part of getting ‘back to normal’ is ramping up the volume of irritating customer communications,” said Andrew Stevens, Principal, Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance, Quadient. “The number of complaints accelerated towards the end of 2020, but now we’re in a worse position than we were before the pandemic. The sheer volume of spam calls and texts will take a toll on worried customers, who are already grappling with the energy crisis and soaring costs of living. Businesses need to pull the handbrake on annoying customer calls and texts, or they could hit record levels of complaints this year, which would hit revenues when customers decide to leave.”

The number of complaints about COVID-19 related calls and texts in 2021 was almost 12 times the total in 2020, increasing from 371 to 4,424. This rise coincided with the emergence of the Omicron variant at the end of 2021, with 3,588 complaints registered in December – almost eight times as many as the previous six months combined (479).

PPI pestering is on the rise, with related nuisance rising by more than half (623, up from 412). With the August 2019 final deadline on PPI claims long gone, it’s clear this is a growing scam call problem. In fact, the number of PPI-related complaints almost outweighed payday loans (328) and pensions (342) combined.

Finally, adult content nuisance calls were up – with 337 complaints of X-rated nuisance calls and texts in 2021, compared to 270 in 2020.

“We’re beginning to see businesses return to normality – but it appears part of getting ‘back to normal’ is ramping up the volume of irritating customer communications,” said Andrew Stevens, Principal, Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance, Quadient. “The number of complaints accelerated towards the end of 2020, but now we’re in a worse position than we were before the pandemic. The sheer volume of spam calls and texts will take a toll on worried customers, who are already grappling with the energy crisis and soaring costs of living. Businesses need to pull the handbrake on annoying customer calls and texts, or they could hit record levels of complaints this year, which would hit revenues when customers decide to leave.”