A few years ago a close relative of ours in her late 80s suffered a fall at home and ended up in hospital.
After a couple of weeks she made a recovery of sorts, but was noticeably more frail than before and the social workers wanted her to go into a care home instead of returning to the house where she had lived alone since the death of her husband several years earlier.
She was a spirited and independent lady and she was having none of it. “I don’t want to be a burden on anyone,” she would say (how often have you heard an elderly relative say that!) “but I want to stay in my own home for as long as possible”.
So we set up some support to help her to do just that. A home help came twice a day to help her dress in the morning and get ready for bed at night; meals on wheels called every lunchtime and a nurse and a cleaner called once a week.
She paid for all of this out of her own pocket. Despite paying into the welfare state all her working life from the age of 14 and never claiming a penny, when she needed help she was told she wasn’t eligible – because she had had the foresight to put aside some modest savings for her old age.
She coped pretty well except for one major problem that we just couldn’t solve – the telephone.
Instead of being a lifeline to the outside world the phone became a constant menace and torment, with up to 30 unsolicited marketing calls every day.
PPI compensation, solar panels, new boilers, new kitchens, debt management, loft insulation, accident claims, energy companies – you name it, they called her constantly from early in the morning to late at night.
The silent calls, generated by automatic dialling systems, were the most terrifying of all. She would often ring us in tears: “Why do they keep calling me? Can’t you make them stop?”
Heaven knows we tried. Several years earlier we had registered her number with the Telephone Preference Service, which is supposed to stop cold calling. It was worse than useless – the volume of calls actually increased once we put her on the TPS.
On several occasions we found the names of the companies making the calls and reported them to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is supposed to oversee the system and punish offenders. Nothing happened and the calls, often from the same companies, continued. If there is a more useless quango than the ICO I haven’t come across it.
Eventually, she had another bad fall. Whether she was rushing to answer the phone for the umpteenth time that day, I don’t know, but I suspect that was the case.
This time she never made it home. She was eventually discharged from hospital to a nursing home where she died a few months later. I can’t say for sure that the constant harassment she suffered hastened her end, but I know for certain that these cold calling bandits made her final months at home an utter misery.
This is a national scandal. Industry figures show that there are one billion unwanted phone and text messages every year. But up until now little has been done about it except for a bit of ineffectual handwringing by the ICO and the TPS.
But this week the Government finally announced a crackdown on cold calling firms, making it easier to prosecute rogue firms and making their bosses personally liable for up to £500,000 in fines.
About time too! Regular readers of this column will know I am no fan of increasing state power, but with these chancers I’d make an exception.
I’d quite happily see the police kick down the front doors of these cold calling bosses and drag them out in handcuffs.
I’d like to see their personal and company bank accounts frozen and their personal assets seized and the proceeds used to pay compensation to cold call victims – say at the rate of £1,000 per nuisance call – until all the money had gone.
When a few of them had been forced into bankruptcy, maybe a bit of sense and decency would be knocked into the telemarketing industry.
And then perhaps elderly people would be able to enjoy the peace and quiet they deserve.