Comment: How phone calls can become a nuisance

The phone can be such a help for vulnerable people but call centres are often the reverse, argues Jennifer Harvey

“Thank you for calling Rubbish Products and Services. Press one if you have called us before and given up in despair. Press two if you have taken out an extended warranty at great expense, which you will find to be invalid in your circumstances. Press three if you would like to listen to Green Sleeves played on panpipes for 20 minutes and then be cut off. Alternatively, please hold to speak to a well-meaning operator in a call centre in Madras or Glasgow, who will be no use at all. Please don’t hang up, your call is important to us. You are number 238 in the queue.”

Such phone calls make people more vulnerable. Older people, deaf people, people with learning difficulties, young people with no support networks, people with mental health problems – any of us can press the wrong button or say yes at the wrong time and end up with something we don’t want, or fail to sort out a problem or query a bill.

It seems the phone is the bane of our lives. Given that it is so difficult for us to speak to someone and get a result, it seems ironic that call centres can ring us at any time to sell us something we don’t want.

I have no problem with the individual callers, who no doubt are working for a pittance. I’m not one of those people who scream down the phone: “How would you like it if I rang you at home when you’re having your tea!” But I am constantly surprised that cold-calling is legal. It is a gross invasion of privacy.

If you’ve not seen anybody for three weeks, perhaps because you’re an older person who finds it difficult to get out, you may be tempted by a “no-obligation visit” from someone who’s in your area.

You may find there’s a great deal of obligation to sign something if you ever want that person to leave your home. And those new doors and windows could be very costly.

I know a young man with a learning difficulty who seems to have a new mobile phone every week because people keep ringing him up to offer him the latest model “free”.

What would Alexander Graham Bell have made of it all?

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties

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