WE have all had them. The unsolicited, unwanted telephone calls at breakfast time, or in the evening, or at the weekend: “caller withheld” calls offering us double glazing, PPI compensation, pensions advice, cheaper energy bills, or assistance after a non-existent accident.

In most cases, it is enough to utter a polite “no thanks” and hang up. But why should we continue to accept these aggravating intrusions? A ringing phone that disturbs the domestic peace in the evening, in particular, leads many of us to fear that we are about to receive bad news from family or friends.

Campaigns have been waged against cold-calling companies. MPs and MSPs have condemned them. Substantial fines have been imposed on some of the worst offenders, who have thus been named and shamed. But still the calls continue to plague us in our homes or on our mobile phones.

The scale of the problem remains formidable: Britons received no fewer than 2.2 billion calls last year.

Many people have grown reluctant to answer their phones lest they find themselves at the receiving end of a sales pitch or, worse, of a silent or abandoned call.

As Jamie Halcro Johnston, the Highlands and Islands MSP, has noted, nuisance calls can be distressing or intimidating; they can be persistent and have a “real impact” on people’s lives.

CR Smith is now being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office after consumers complained about unsolicited marketing calls. It could face a heavy fine if the ICO finds it has made no improvement in the situation. CR Smith is one of 11 companies the ICO has “concerns about”.

Punitive fines have certainly been levied elsewhere. Earlier this month a Liverpool-based marketing company was fined £300,000 for making 26.6 million automated PPI-related calls in 10 months. Another company was fined £350,000 for making 75 million automated calls in four months.

A Lancashire company received

an £850,000 penalty in 2015. Each fine and its accompanying words

of condemnation from the ICO represents a small victory for the consumer.

The Which? organisation has been assiduous in campaigning against nuisance calls. The Scottish Government, worried that such calls disproportionately affect people in Scotland, launched an action plan, installing call-blocking technology for those most at risk, while asking the UK Secretary for Culture to do more to reduce the volume of calls.

Customers, for our part, are forced to go ex-directory, use call-blocking technology, and register with the Telephone Preference Service.

Despite all of this, and much more, many companies seem to be taking a cavalier or cynical attitude towards – as Which? puts it – “this everyday menace that can intimidate and discourage people from answering their phones”.

The UK claims director at one leading UK insurer, Aviva, describes nuisance calls as a national epidemic that must be stopped.

The Commons’ Work and Pensions Select Committee has urged the Westminster Government to fast-track legislation that would outlaw unsolicited pensions sales calls.

There is a further glimmer of hope in the shape of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, which is making its way through Parliament and proposes setting up a financial claims body that would consider the effect of cold-calling and ban it in certain circumstances. That may provide an excellent opportunity to tackle unsolicited calls for good.

Is it too much to ask that we can answer the phone with confidence that the caller is someone we want or need to talk to and not someone exploiting the system for their own or their firm’s financial greed?