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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Out in the cold
Door-stepped person

By Claire Heald
BBC News

Cold calling exclusion zones are springing up across the UK as householders try to deter door-to-door callers, including the latest strain of doorstep "seller" - the charity fundraiser.

The town centre has become their roaming ground, but lately, or so it seems, those insistent young fundraisers known to many as chuggers - charity muggers - have moved from High Street to side street.

Instead of winning shoppers round with a joke on the street, they've begun targeting homes by looking for affluent-but-not-uptight households that are likely to donate.

It is one of the reasons councils have started to set up No Cold Calling Zones - streets marked with signs warning traders to stay away. Householders say door-to-door sellers are an invasion of privacy and they waste time, plus there is no escape route from the front door.

Coming to a doorstep...

Liz Duffy was at home in south London feeding her toddler son his tea when a chugger called last week.

"I said several times that I didn't want to sign anything on the doorstep, I wanted to look at it in my own time. But he was very persistent in telling me about the charity and wanting me to sign up," she says.

No cold calling sign
Signs are popping up on lampposts

"Part of me thinks they have to reach people somehow but I resent the idea that anything I do give is partially going to a commercial company that specialises in fundraising."

Charities say chugging is efficient, and, on the street, it's widely supported by the public. The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association says it was involved in plans to create the zones, supports moves to stop bogus callers and anyone who does sign up has a 28-day cooling-off period.

But door-to-door chugging is one of the reasons councils, like Angus in Scotland, set up a pioneering cold-calling exclusion zone.

Following its lead, Enfield Council in London proposed setting up a "No Cold Calling Zone" across three streets, it canvassed 300 households. None objected and just one person was "ambivalent".

It reflects an apparently growing dislike among the British public of being bothered at home. In one Trading Standards Institute survey, of 9,000 people, 98% said they did not want cold callers; none said they welcomed them.

Five London boroughs and half of all UK local authorities are experimenting with exclusion zones, according to the Trading Standards Institute.

"The High street chuggers, they're there every week, a different charity every day. They don't get the business so they've moved out to doing it door to door, it's another business opportunity," says Charles Wallace of Enfield Council trading standards.

Bans cover all-comers and are partly designed to deter "distraction burglars" who tend to exploit elderly homeowners. But, in truth, such schemes are relatively toothless. Trading standards and police can be called to warn callers off, or search suspected burglars, but there is no sanction for cold calling itself.

One more defence

Now people see it as an invasion of their time and it's enough
Cliff Arnall

Such zones can be seen as part of a growing trend among people wishing to sever themselves from all unsolicited contact, be it at the doorstep, over the phone or through the letter box.

Others include:

• The Mail Preference Service, to stop letterbox junk mail. And as customer-loyal Royal Mail postman Roger Annies has pointed out, people can opt out of unaddressed mail from its delivery.

• Its counterpart, the Telephone Preference Service allows landline customers to exit a register used by marketing companies. Of the UK's 34 million home and business lines, 13 million residential numbers are in - a challenge for the 4bn-a-year tele-marketing sector. Plus 48% of the UK's landlines are ex-directory and 50 million people's mobile numbers are mostly unlisted.

The physical barriers are going up

• Opting out of the electoral register. Details on the roll are always available for poll purposes but people can now opt out of the published version.

• Unwanted email is not just tackled by spam manager, but jail. In Australia, a man is under investigation for sending more than 2bn Viagra-promoting spam emails. A US man was jailed for nine years for being the world's eighth most prolific spammer.

• Shut the gates - like the US and South Africa before it, the UK is home to a rising number of at least 1,000 gated developments.

  • The "Old School" approach. If all else fails, hiding behind the sofa, and a 'no junk mail' sign on the door are still legitimate options.
  • So why are people cutting themselves off by ever-increasing methods? Psychologist Cliff Arnall says it is down to time pressure and time wasting.

    "There's the growing consensus that this constitutes a nuisance. For a long time people felt they couldn't do anything about junk mail. Now, they see it as an invasion of their time and it's enough, without having to deal with people on their doorstep."

    Does the shut-down do us any harm? Probably not, for vulnerable people or those with busy lives.

    Many of the zones are in a trial stage, but councils like Angus and Enfield say they have received no complaints so far.

    Any lack of contact is more an issue for the people with too much time on their hands, says Cliff: "They could try asking them in, it might improve their social life."

    Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

    I have answered the door to cold-callers naked in the past, and invited them in for a cup of tea. They soon make their excuses and leave.
    Dan Bidewell, London

    I worked as a cold-caller for two whole weeks, before I felt like an utterly evil human being and quit. I didn't sell a single kitchen, and the people who did were usually just verbally bullying or confusing pensioners.
    Molly, Durham

    I haven't answered my door to unexpected callers for about 35 years. I've always thought it a great cheek and extremely rude to knock someone's door unexpectedly & disturb them. Maybe I'm not so odd after all.
    C. Matthews, Birmingham

    It's easy to paint this as a modern trend, excluding ourselves from potential nuisances, but have you ever seen the defences on mediaeval castles? Now they had the right idea!
    Chandra, London, England

    I have worked in areas where every day there are hoards of chuggers (Holborn and Wimbledon) - and loathe them. Mainly I think because I do actually give over 10% of my salary to charities (which is probably more than most of them do) and yet when I say I am not interested they make out I am a tight, cold hearted, selfish person.
    V, London

    When I travelled Australia I worked for four months as a 'chugger' going door to door in order to raise funds for charities. The majority of people were welcoming because you were helping people. But on the flip side I earned very good money in the process, taking home some days more that $600.
    Matt, Barry, South Wales

    I'm all for these cold calling exclusion zones. I had a charity worker come to my door and I had a terrible time trying to get rid of him. Now, unless I'm expecting a visitor, I don't answer the door. If it's someone I know they'll ring the doorbell a few times or they'll phone me.
    Charlie Boyd, Edinburgh, Scotland

    Good to hear this. Since being ex-directory we've had about one call per year. And we're out in the country so don't get doorstep enquires. My spam filter is brilliant and not one spam has got through in a year. That leaves the post; I just boycott anything that sends unwanted ads.
    Vic, Hereford

    I spent a day chugging with a marketing company. I was encouraged not to back off and still continue with my pitch even if the person was in the middle of their tea. I was told to try and get a seat at their dinner table, if necessary. Anything to get one more donation form completed. I felt uncomfortable disturbing people in the middle of their dinner or after a long day at work. I quit after that one day.
    Ellen, Southampton

    As an ex-"chugger", I can see both sides of the argument. I only did the job for about 5 months, but in that time I had very conflicting feelings about it. I was not long out of university and could not afford to work for nothing, but at the same time wanted to do something a little worthwhile. Working for a charity seemed to fit in. Face to face is the most effective way for a charity to raise money... they will stop doing it when it stops making them money.
    John, Leeds

    The work done by these fundraisers is significant contribution to society and sometimes the world. I don't stop for street fundraisers unless I have the time and inclination but I do value what they are doing. It must require a high degree of idealism in order to cope with so much indifference and antagonism.
    Jayaraja, Cambridge

    This is a good idea. I don't like having to be rude to people but feel forced into a position where I have to be quite firm. I feel doubly bad turning them away when they are mostly young students, trying to be enthusiastic about a cause they probably know little about, for not much money.
    Lucy, Bath

    I understand the reasons for chuggers, and think they do a valuable job, but why not get a simple full time, fully paid job, and donate all the money they earn above their chugging salary to the charity? As for junk mail, companies don't pay for those pre-paid envelopes until they are used, so stuff the junk back into those handy pre-paid envelopes and stick it straight back in the post box. If they want to waste your time, why not waste their money.
    Andrew Sowerby, London

    Thanks for this article. I've printed off several copies and am planning to hand them out to cold-callers and anyone posting spam through my letter box.
    Adrian Camp, Surrey

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