Improve the Mailing Preference Service

The Mailing Preference Service is the Direct Marketing Association's opt-out scheme for addressed junk mail. It's the most well-known opt-out scheme for junk mail and compared with the opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail it works fairly well. Still, there's room for improvements.

Broaden the opt-out scheme's scope

The Mailing Preference Service only stops unsolicited advertisements from members of the Direct Marketing Association. Non-members may use the Mailing Preference Service database to check if you've opted out but they don't have to do so – only members of the industry lobby group are required to check if you're registered. This makes the Mailing Preference Service a rather laissez faire opt-out scheme compared with two of its cousins; the Telephone Preference Service and Facsimile Preference Service. Any organisation wanting to sell you something via telephone of fax is legally obliged to check if you're opted out, regardless of whether the organisation is a member of the Direct Marketing Association.

The reason the opt-out schemes for sales calls and faxes are more effective is that they're governed not by self-regulation but by the Privacy and Electronic (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. If the Direct Marketing Association feels strongly about making the Mailing Preference Service more effective it should lobby government to introduce similar legislation for 'cold mailing'. Needless to say, the organisation is lobbying for the opposite.

Allow organisations to opt-out

Businesses and other types of organisations can't register with the Mailing Preference Service. There's no good reason why this is so and it leaves businesses with no protection from junk mailers whatsoever. It also doesn't help junk mailers as they have no way of knowing whether or not any businesses they target are at all interested in unsolicited offers.

Close the 'To the Occupier' loophole

The Mailing Preference Service doesn't stop addressed junk mail with a generic addressee, such as 'To the Occupier'. The official reason for this is that the Direct Marketing Association is concerned that allowing you to stop mailings with a generic addressee might deprive other people in your household from receiving such mailings. The real reason is that this loophole enables members of the Direct Marketing Association to bypass the opt-out scheme.

Have a single website for all DMA opt-outs

The Mailing Preference Service is one of five opt-out schemes run by the Direct Marketing Association. The other four schemes are:

  • Baby Mailing Preference Service – to reduce baby-related junk mail from DMA-members
  • Telephone Preference Service – to reduce unsolicited sales calls
  • Facsimile Preference Service – to reduce unsolicited sales faxes
  • Your Choice Preference Scheme – to stop unaddressed mail distributed by DMA-members

At the moment these schemes are completely separate. If you want to register with the Mailing and Preference Service you need to go two different websites and submit the same details twice. The aim, of course, is to discourage people from registering – the more work it involves the less likely it is that people will do it.

Setting up a one-stop-shop for opting out of unsolicited marketing is entirely doable. In fact, it has been done. From 2010 to late 2012 Consumer Focus ran a service called Stay Private which enabled people to register with any of the Direct Marketing Association's opt-outs. The Stay Private website also let people set up an account so that they could renew services and change their details, for instance when they moved house. Unfortunately, Consumer Focus became a victim of the government's bonfire of the quangos and the service was discontinued.

Sadly, the Direct Marketing Association insists that because its opt-out schemes cover completely discrete media channels people need to go to different website to submit the same information several times. They've never explained why it wouldn't be possible to merge all its opt-out websites and simply ask people which schemes they'd like to register with. What they have said is that it's a matter of principle. Conclude what you will about whose side the Direct Marketing Association is on.

Last updated: 
24th July 2015