The Mailing Preference Service is a free service that can prevent your name is added to junk mail databases. You can also use the service to register a previous occupants' name at your current address.
The Mailing Preference Service is by far the most popular opt-out scheme discussed in this guide. It's not, however, the most effective scheme - Royal Mail's opt-out for leaflets (the Door-to-Door Opt-Out will stop more junk mail. In fact, the opt-out for unsolicited, addressed junk mail is somewhat overrated. Only members of the Junk Mail Association to check if you're registered; it won't stop junk mail that's the result of failing to tick (hidden) opt-out boxes; and signing up also won't put a stop to those annoying 'To the Occupier' letters.
Despite the scheme's shortcomings you should register. You can do so online, via mpsonline.org.uk or by phoning 0845 703 4599 (note this is an 'automated registration line' - be prepared to chat with a computer). The Mailing Preference Service does have an e-mail address (email@example.com) but it's no longer possible to request an opt-out form via e-mail. Which probably is my fault.
Many guides to stopping junk mail claim that registering with the Mailing Preference Service will reduce personally addressed junk mail by “
up to 95%”. This statement comes from the Direct Marketing Association, which runs the Mailing Preference Service. For many years I tried to get them to admit the 95%-claim is misleading and could not be substantiated. They finally did so in June 2011 (see MPS drops 95%-claim in the News section) and the claim has now been removed from the Mailing Preference Service website. Unfortunately, the '95%-myth' is still widespread.
Registering with the Mailing Preference Service isn't going to reduce addressed junk mail by 95%. The scheme will prevent addressed advertisements from organisations that are members of the Direct Marketing Association and who you haven't given permission to contact you. In other words, you'll still get junk mail from organisations that aren't members of the association; and if you're receiving advertisements because you failed to tick an opt-out box when you gave your personal details to an organisation your registration with the Mailing Preference Service isn't going to stop the junk mail.
Another thing to be aware of is that the Mailing Preference Service will not stop junk mail with a generic addressee, such as 'To the Occupier'. This is a rather strange opt-out the Direct Marketing Association created for junk mailers when they set up the Mailing Preference Service. There's no reason to assume people registered with the Mailing Preference Service will somehow want to receive 'To the Occupier' mailings.
All things considered, the Mailing Preference Service may be able to reduce addressed junk mail by up to 50% - and I'd say I'm being generous here. If the 50%-figure is correct and you're an average person, opting out will stop just over 30 pieces of junk mail per annum.
Registering more than once
Ever wondered what will happen if you're registered with the Mailing Preference Service as, say, 'Joe Bloggs' and a junk mailer has your name as 'Joseph Bloggs'? The answer is that the sender may ignore your registration. How to deal with these cases is entirely up to the junk mailer. To get the most out of the Mailing Preference Service it therefore makes sense to register any alternative names you may known by. You can register up to five names in one go, which should be sufficient.
You are not, however, allowed to register first name initials. This is, presumably, because there may be other people in your household who have the same initial as you. If you register the name 'J Bloggs', say, then junk mailers wouldn't be able to make an intelligent guess about whether the 'J' stands for 'Joe' or any other name starting with a 'J'.
Patience is a Virtue
It can take up to four months before your registration with the Mailing Preference Service becomes “
fully effective”, although you should see a reduction in the amount of junk mail you receive in this period. The reason why it takes so long before bulk mailers leave you alone is that it usually takes quite some time to produce a mail-out. (It's worth noting that this argument is not wholly convincing; it would of course be possible to 'clean' a mail-out shortly before it's handed to Royal Mail).
Good news is that your patience will be rewarded. As of April 2012 it's no longer needed to re-register every five years. It used to be the case that your name was automatically removed from the Mailing Preference Service database after five years time but this is no longer the case. If you register your name will be on the Mailing Preference Service 'suppression file' until the end of time.
If you're registered with the Mailing Preference Service but, in the words of the Direct Marketing Association, “
are now happy to receive unsolicited sales and marketing correspondence”, you'll be delighted to know it's possible to de-register. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and they'll action your request “ASAP”. (de-registering is less complicated than registering ;)
- The Mailing Preference Service was the first junk mail opt-out scheme in the UK. It was set up in 1983.
- The Direct Marketing Association runs no less than six different opt-out services. The most well known schemes are the Mailing Preference Service, Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and Facsimile Preference Service (FPS). Apart from these three services there also is a Corporate TPS and Baby-MPS. The latest opt-out service is the infamous Your Choice scheme.
- A so-called voluntary producer responsibility agreement between the Direct Marketing Association and Defra commits the junk mail industry to publicising opt-out schemes such as the Mailing Preference Service. Since this agreement was signed in 2003 registrations with the opt-out scheme have doubled. Defra would like to see a further increase in the number of people registered. However, a recent suggestion by Defra to advertise the Mailing Preference Service on all addressed junk mail has been rejected by the Direct Marketing Association as an
“unsophisticated and blunt axe response”.
- For many years there have been rumours that the Mailing Preference Service will become an American-style opt in / opt out service. The idea is that you would indicate what advertising mail you do and don't want to receive. It seems that may have been just be a rumour, though.
- It's difficult to say exactly how many people are registered with the Mailing Preference Service. As at March 2012 the Mailing Preference Service database contained just over 5,4 million records, but this no indication of the number of people registered. This is mainly because one person may be on the database files several times; not only under different names ('Mr Joe Bloggs', 'Mr Joseph Bloggs' etc.) but also under different addresses (say, your previous and current address). Add to that the fact that a lot of death people are registered and it's clear that the database contains quite a few 'junk entries'.
- As mentioned above, it's not a legal requirement for junk mailers to check if you have registered with the Mailing Preference Service. Under the Direct Marketing Association's Code of Practice members of the association do have to use the suppression file but there's no such requirement for non-members. Interestingly, the same is not the case with the TPS, Corporate TPS and FPS; these three opt-outs come under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 and are enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office.
- Perhaps as a result of the voluntary nature of the Mailing Preference Service, people are still relatively unaware of the existence of the opt-out scheme. According to the DMA's own research only 46% of people in the UK have heard of the scheme. For the Telephone Preference Service the figure is 55%. The TPS file is also considerably larger than the MPS database; it contains 14.8 million records (compared to just over 4.5 million for the MPS).
- One reason why the Telephone Preference Service is better known and more used than the Mailing Preference Service is that the former allows third party registrations. BT, for example, actively encourages its customers to register their telephone number with the opt-out service for sales calls.
- It's not possible to register the name 'Occupier' with the Mailing Preference Service. Unsolicited mail with a generic addressee (such as 'To the Occupier', 'To the Householder' etc.) is incorrectly classified as unaddressed mail and is therefore not covered by the Mailing Preference Service.
- The 'To the Occupier' loophole doesn't only cause problems for people with the surname 'Occupier'; it also means that such items are not covered by any opt-out scheme. Royal Mail's Door-to-Door Opt-Out rightly considers items addressed 'To the Occupier' as addressed mail (provided that the item includes an address as well).
If you continue to receive addressed junk mail from members of the Direct Marketing Association you can direct your complaint to:
Mailing Preference Service
LONDON W1E 0ZT
The Mailing Preference Service will want to see either the original mail item(s) or a full copy of the mailing including the envelope. On receipt of this they'll contact the organisation in question to find out why the mailing was sent. If the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion have been breached your complaint may be passed to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Do keep in mind that you're not allowed to complaint about junk mail from organisations that are not a member of the Direct Marketing Association; mailings with a generic addressee (i.e. 'To the Occupier'); items sent from abroad; and mailings from organisations whom you have given permissions (perhaps unknowingly) to send you junk mail.
I mentioned that I'm to blame for the fact that it's no longer possible to request a paper registration form via e-mail. In case you're wondering what I've done wrong, the decision to no longer send registration forms to people contacting the opt-out service via e-mail was taken in March 2010. At around that time quite a few people contacted the service via my Junk Buster website after it got mentioned in various newspapers. The sudden increase in the number requests for opt-out forms upset the Direct Marketing Association, and so they decided to block Junk Buster by replying to all messages sent via the widget with this message:
"Due to environmental reasons MPS no longer produces registration forms. You can register with our FREE service via our website: www.mpsonline.org.uk or by calling the automated registration line on 0845 7034599."
That's right: 'environmental reasons' Obviously, this isn't an attempt to discourage people from using websites that allow them to find out about and contact all the main opt-out schemes for junk mail in one go. And of course it's accidental that the word 'free' in the e-mail has been capitalised; it doesn't in any way suggest that Junk Buster is not FREE. (Rest assured that Junk Buster is, always has been, and always will be FREE!)
Interesting to note is that there are perfectly suitable alternatives for paper forms. Take, for example, this Revolutionary MPS Registration E-form. You can download the form, complete it on the computer, and fire it off to the Mailing Preference Service, without having to print it. The form is 100% unofficial and you probably shouldn't use it (my guess is they'll just ignore it). I designed the form just to show that using opt-out forms and saving paper aren't mutually exclusive.
As for Junk Buster, the widget still exists, but it no longer sends e-mails to the Mailing Preference Service. It's a real shame, as it does make Junk Buster less useful. Luckily though, the Direct Marketing Association didn't get the last laugh when they made up that rubbish about 'saving paper'. In June 2010 Consumer Focus launched Stay Private, a one-point-stop for registering with four opt-out schemes run by the Direct Marketing Association.
For more details about the Mailing Preference Service and Junk Buster Friendship Association, see the Junk Buster page in this guide.