Complaints about nuisance calls saw freak drop of 57% in 2022

A telephone off the hook.

Complaints about nuisance calls saw freak drop of 57% in 2022 Duncan is an award-winning technology industry analyst, specialising in cloud computing, blockchain, martech and edge computing.

The number of nuisance calls and texts reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) dropped by 57% in 2022, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from technology company Quadient has revealed.

The ICO received 56,015 complaints about nuisance calls and texts in 2022, less than half the 131,491 received in 2021 and fewer than in any year since 2019. Overall, there were 32,317 complaints about live calls (down 35%), 13,790 about automated calls (down 74%) and 9,908 relating to SMS text messages (down 57%).

Potential reasons for this severe drop include:

  • A record number of consumers using Open Banking regulations to call it a day with their existing bank and start a more healthy relationship with a competitor.
  • New consumer focused FCA rules improving customers’ relationships with their insurer.
  • Energy suppliers keeping contact to a minimum during a period of negative news for the industry.

“It might seem fantastic to see the number of complaints more than halve, especially regarding often intrusive and impersonal automated calls – however we cannot know for sure until we know the reason for it,” said Andrew Oldham, UK CXM director, Quadient. 

“This may be a new era in business-consumer relations, it could be a one-off due to external factors, or it may even be because consumers are so disheartened with nuisance calls that they have given up complaining. Regardless of the reason, organisations cannot rest on their laurels. They need to remain firmly focused on their customers and follow best practices to ensure the numbers don’t shoot back up.”

Halved banking complaints suggest a return to the norm

There were 4,373 complaints related to banking, almost half (47%) the number made in 2021 (8,202). However, this figure is still higher than the 4,183 reported in 2019, suggesting 2022 represents a return to the norm rather than real progress, and that there are still improvements to make.

Despite the number of overall complaints about automated calls dropping significantly, the 2,904 reported in banking dwarfed the numbers on live calls or texts. Banks must consider whether the cost savings of switching away from using live agents are instead creating a negative impact on customer relationships.

“Looking at the reasons for this drop, the ongoing success of Open Banking means a record number of people switched their current account last year. Starting afresh with a new bank, and ideally an improved relationship, may have been a driver for some people to complain less,” said Andrew Stevens, principal, Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance, Quadient. “On face value the results indicate banks’ investments in training and scripts for live calls are paying off, with fewer than one thousand complaints made about live calls.”

Insurers show slow but steady improvement

The number of complaints relating to insurance (3,187) was down by less than other key industries, dropping 13% from 2021’s 3,851. The vast majority of complaints – 2,875 – were related to live calls, suggesting that this is still insurers’ preferred method of communicating with customers.

“The insurance industry has shifted in favour of customers in the last year, with new FCA rules delivering fairer home and motor insurance premiums,” said Mark Summers, head of insurance – Enterprise, Quadient. “This shift will also have an impact on calls to customers, with fewer marketing calls made by insurers offering cheap introductory rates. While the fact that insurers are focused on live calls instead of SMS or automated calls suggests a focus on true one-on-one communications, there is evidently still work to do to ensure that every contact is seen as relevant and useful by the consumer.”

Energy suppliers power down complaints

There were 1,313 complaints relating to energy supply, down more than half from the 2,602 reported in 2021 and almost two thirds (64%) compared to 2019, suggesting 2022 was a highly unusual year. This year, most complaints (883) were about live calls, suggesting suppliers could identify scenarios where alternative channels are more appropriate.

“Energy suppliers have had a lot of bad news to communicate as prices spiked over the last year, so it might be surprising to see the number of complaints fall. One explanation is that suppliers will have decided to keep communications to a minimum, potentially limiting the number of negative interactions with customers,” said Alan Newman, enterprise manager – Utilities and Telecom, Quadient.

“Companies are already using technology to reduce the need for possible nuisance calls – for instance, many allow customers to give remote meter readings at a time that suits them, rather than calling to ask for a reading. If companies can keep customer communication as easy and frictionless as possible, they should see a consistent fall in the number of complaints.”

Additional insights

Most nuisance calls were reported in the beginning of the year, with the highest numbers in January, February, March and April before a second peak in November. This suggests that whether they are from legitimate companies or otherwise, nuisance callers are following a distinct pattern of behaviour.

There were also signs that some calls were almost certainly spam. For instance, there were 892 complaints about calls related to COVID-19, and 262 related to PPI, even though the PPI deadline passed in 2019. To avoid being associated with spammers and scammers, businesses must be absolutely certain they are no longer contacting people relating to issues whose relevance has largely passed.

Complaints around pensions fell by the largest proportion, dropping 67% to 113. Conversely, gambling nuisance calls bucked the trend – complaints increased by 28% year-on-year. And finally, consumers are similarly irritated by nuisance calls around adult content (225), call blockers (219) and payday loans (258).

Monthly data for 2022

MonthLive callsAutomated callsText messagesTotal
Total number of complaints32,31713,7909,90856,015

Total across last four years

Total number of complaints (across all industries)129,354103,733131,49156,015 
Accident claims37,98323,2055,3052,507
Adult content270358337225 
Broadband, phone, TV or other telecoms services23,64914,12319,0107,549 
Call blockers705384397219 
Computer scams2,5391,7642,557   908 
Debt management5,0461,9022,8302,214 
Energy saving and home improvement3,8664,1507,3903,702 
Energy supply 3,5812,3552,6481,313 
Insurance (including car, life and home)3,7922,8413,9893,187
Lifestyle surveys1,8941,2551,5561,212 
Oven cleaning1,63667016055 
Payday loans773371328258 
Silent/no answer3,2022,7294,6621,893 
None of the above25,41131,66853,84420,017 

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