News : Charity Call Centres Use Loophole in Do Not Call Register to Seek Donations
London, UK, Sept 29, 2016 -- Commercial call companies that represent some Australian charities are exploiting loopholes in consumer law and seeking unsolicited donations with "alarming frequency", a report by the consumer group Choice has found.
On Thursday Choice launched a campaign and a report into nuisance calls, which showed that 89% of all Australians interviewed as part of a survey had received at least one unsolicited call in a six-month period.
The report took particular aim at unwanted calls made on behalf of charity groups by for-profit call centre companies, and found that more than 25% of Australians interviewed had received unwanted calls from a charity each week.
The Do Not Call register allows some consumers to opt out of unsolicited calls. But while the Australian Consumer Law protects consumers against unsolicited calls in some circumstances, there is an exemption for charities where there is an "existing relationship".
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This has created a lucrative incentive for some for call companies to aggressively target consumers.
"Calls asking for money are intrusive and put vulnerable members of society at risk when they are hounded week-in and week-out," said a Choice spokesman, Tom Godfrey.
"Unfortunately consumers can’t use the Do Not Call register to opt out of all nuisance calls, with for-profit companies’ call centres exploiting the charity exception to hound people.
"Of course charities need to be able to raise funds to survive, but when the nature of the fundraising verges on harassment, it bad for the charities and the community they are set up to serve."
The National Seniors chief executive officer, Dagmar Parsons, also expressed concern, and said older Australians were upset about the level of harassment they received.
"We are hearing from our members that the calls are making them anxious and they are reluctant to answer the phone," he said.
The Choice report found that although the consumer law protections were effective, the exemptions meant they were "not strong enough to deal with consumer frustration caused by unwanted calls".
"The rate of unsolicited calls, largely due to exceptions to the Do Not Call register for charities and organisations that consumers have an ‘existing relationship’ with, means that consumers are hounded with calls that they don’t want to receive, and are being asked for money they did not proactively choose to give," it found.
"Commercial companies acting on behalf of charities have at times demonstrated a ruthlessness and disregard for consumers, sometimes for the very consumers they are collecting funds to assist."
A number of case studies in the report outlined a high level of frustration.
"Since we have retired we have been inundated with these calls almost on a daily basis, despite registering with the government site to stop these type of calls … We are seriously thinking of disconnecting our landline," one participant said.
Another said: "I have had to give up answering my landline, and in so doing have missed some important personal calls."
The report acknowledged that charities provided important functions across the country, the "intrinsic social value of the not-for-profit sector should not be used to dissuade policy makers from making changes that are, on the whole, beneficial for society and which are designed to protect the most vulnerable".
Less than 6% of reported income from charities in 2014 was from donations, a smaller amount of which would be from phone donation calls, the report said.
The Choice report canvassed removing the exception for charities for the Do Not Call register.
It also suggested an alternative that would allow the Do Not Call register to have specific categories for opting out of calls.
"For example, consumers should be able to opt out of all requests for money including fundraising and telemarketing," it said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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