Bid to crack down on the cold callers

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THE chairman of the Office of Fair Trading said he would support a private member’s bill calling for a ban on cold calling.

David Quirk (Onchan) gave his support in the House of Keys to a crackdown on cold calling after revealing details about the scale of complaints about cowboy builders.

Replying to a question from Howard Quayle (Middle), Mr Quirk said that over the last three years the OFT had handled no fewer than 1,209 complaints about builders and home repairs - with a further 197 complaints this year up to the end of October.

He told MHKs: ‘Not all of these complaints were about cowboy builders - some were perfectly reputable builders for whom things went wrong and indeed not all the complaints were justified.

‘However, this category represents over 10 per cent of the complaints which the OFT receives and I’m afraid a small but busy number of cowboy builders, both resident and itinerant, do feature regularly.’

Mr Quirk said he did not believe the OFT has sufficient powers to deal with the problem of cowboy builders and one method for disrupting their activities would be a ban on cold calling.

He explained: ‘This would create a victimless offence that could be enforced. It would not solve the problem completely because despite all the warnings, people still respond to advertising and leaflet drops.’

Mr Quayle asked the OFT chairman: ‘Given the high number of complaints received would he support a private member’s bill calling for a ban on cold calling?’

Mr Quirk replied that personally he would be happy to support such a move and would seek the views of the board at its next meeting.

Kate Beecroft (Lib Van, Douglas South) asked what action the OFT had taken given this ‘very, very serious problem.’

And John Houghton (Douglas North) also questioned how active the Office had been in pursuing convictions. He asked the chairman: ‘Can he tell us how many people have been arrested and prosecuted and how many have been convicted over the last 12 months?’

Mr Quirk promised to get back with the figures.

Infrastructure Minister David Cretney raised the issue of a potential abuse of the small claims court by some cowboy builders who he claimed were using it to ‘bully consumers into submission’.

‘I will ask the Office,’ Mr Quirk replied.

He said that trading standards officers treated cowboy builders as a high priority, not just based on the volume of complaints but particularly because of the ‘real hardship and anguish that they cause’.

He said the problems had been limited until relatively recently by a handful of local cowboy builders and small numbers of a tarmacadam gangs from adjacent jurisdictions but within the last few years most issues had been caused by itinerant traders.

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