Every day, millions of Brits are bothered by unwanted telephone calls, text messages, email spam and other junk.
One way many of us try to prevent them is by signing up to a free facility known as the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). This official central opt-out register records your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. UK law requires all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) not to make calls to TPS-registered numbers without your prior, express consent to do so.
From about four weeks after registering with the TPS, the flood of unwanted calls should reduce, but won't stop altogether. Organisations with which you have an ongoing relationship can still call you, as can those conducting genuine market research.
What's more, the TPS is ignored by organisations operating outside of the UK, from where most of these unwanted calls (such as the dreaded PPI mis-selling messages) originate. Also, shady UK-based businesses operating on the fringes of the law routinely ignore the TPS.
In my experience, the TPS doesn't stop calls from debt collectors, as I am sometimes called by a firm trying to track down a debtor who never even lived at my current address.
The BT6500 call-blocking handset
The good news is that BT, the UK's biggest provider of landlines, has listened to its customers' complaints about nuisance, malicious and silent calls.
BT -- which takes over 670,000 calls a year to its Nuisance Calls Advice Line on 0800 661 441 -- has launched a new landline phone called the BT6500. BT claims that this new handset will automatically screen out and block around four-fifths (80%) of unwanted calls.
The BT6500 works by allowing customers to bar unwanted calls from overseas callers and withheld numbers (those with no caller ID), as well as up to ten specified numbers. You can also opt to block calls from payphones.
In addition, the handset includes a 'Do Not Disturb' mode to block calls when you wish to remain undisturbed. This function switches off the ringer, while still allowing specified VIP contacts (such as friends and family) to get through. This sounds great for when you're watching a film or working on an important project at home.
To allow genuine callers to contact you, all blocked calls (except those from your ten specified numbers) are silently directed to the answer machine, enabling your contacts to leave you messages. The BT6500 also includes parental controls via a PIN code, so as to prevent calls being made to specified numbers, such as premium-rate lines and mobile phones.
Unfortunately, I was unable to establish whether the BT6500 will blocks sales calls from BT's own call centres!
Controlling your calls
Given the irritation, frustration and anxiety that unsolicited calls cause, this BT phone is long overdue. Indeed, it could be a real stress-buster for people who spend a lot of time at home, such as home workers (like me), pensioners and disabled people.
Of course, this newfound silence and peace of mind costs money. A single BT6500 handset sells for £44.99, while a twin costs £69.99, a trio £89.99, and a quad-set will set you back £109.99. Some retailers will undercut these recommended retail prices, while BT does offer discounts to its own customers.
This handset comes in two different designs with identical functionality, the BT6500 and the BT6510 models. They are available from today from BT, Argos and Amazon, at Tesco and Sainsbury’s from the end of this month, and at John Lewis and Currys from early March.
What are the alternatives?
Before you rush off to buy this call-screening phone, check out these four alternatives:
BT and other landline providers offer their own call-screening services, but these come with monthly fees.
For example, BT's Choose to Refuse service costs £3.55 a month (£42.60 a year) and allows you to block certain numbers getting through. Likewise, BT's Anonymous Call Reject services blocks callers with withheld numbers for a monthly fee of £4.30 (£51.60 a year).
CallBlocker is a hand-sized unit that plugs into your phone line. It intercepts all calls made to your landline with a short message (pre-recorded or customised) explaining that unwanted calls are not welcome, but personal callers should press five to proceed. Only after a caller presses five will your phone ring. For more information, call 0800 988 0210.
CallBlocker costs £54.99 plus £4.99 for delivery.
trueCall Nuisance Call Blocker
trueCall is another call-blocking device that goes between your handset and phone socket. Said to be the best by far on the market, it has 117 five-star reviews on Amazon and was described by entrepreneur Peter Jones as "the best idea he'd ever seen on Dragon's Den". The trueCall device costs £97.50, reduced to £94.95 on Amazon.
4. Charge for your time
Richard Herman got so hacked off with unwanted calls that he sued two persistent offenders, winning hundreds of pounds for his time. You can read about Herman's amusing exploits -- and how to charge cold callers £10 a minute for your time -- at the Say No To Cold Calls website.
More from Lovemoney: