Nuisance calls crackdown – More fines issued and tougher regulations imminent

The supposed UK ‘nuisance calls crackdown’ seems to be gaining momentum, following the DCMS’s Nuisance Calls Action Plan and the recent independent report by Which?. The ICO is stepping up its issuing of penalties, and tougher regulations for offending firms are likely to be passed in the coming year.

More large fines for offending organisations

The ICO’s latest penalty has been issued to boiler cover firm Kwik Fix Plumbers Ltd, who racked up a £90,000 fine for persistent cold calling to elderly victims. Many of the called parties are reported to have paid out for cover they didn’t need, and a total of over 200 individual complaints were made to the ICO. The firm repeatedly contacted individuals already registered with the TPS who had not given prior consent to be called. Kwik Fix had no process for ensuring that TPS registered numbers were not contacted, and the ICO ruled that there was insufficient guidance and training in place to ensure that employees understood how to comply with Regulations. All this combined to result in the huge fine.

Another recent penalty was issued to music festival organiser Parklife Manchester. The brand were caught sending unsolicited text messages to ticket holders during the festival in June of 2014. The message was sent to around 70,000 numbers to advertise a number of bookable after parties. The message appeared as sent by “Mum” and read:

“Some of the Parklife after parties have already sold out. If your going, make sure your home for breakfast! xxx www.afterlifemcr.com”

Although the message broke a number of key regulations, for example by concealing the identity of the sender, by not obtaining prior consent, and by not providing an opt-out method, the key issue here was the distress caused to recipients. A number of complaints were made by recipients who were confused and/or upset by the message having lost their mothers or having mothers who were seriously ill. By causing such distress to a number of individuals the company landed the £70,000 fine, highlighting the importance of good lawful practice when constructing direct marketing campaigns.

Tougher rules for companies

The government is in the process of reworking the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and has plans to ensure that action can be taken by the ICO when direct marketing causes annoyance or inconvenience. The current regulations mean that ‘substantial stress’ must be caused before actions can be considered unacceptable and subject to fines or other consequences. Once the new regulations are introduced, it will be easier for the ICO to take action when complaints are made, because many of these complaints will simply be reporting repeated annoyance or inconvenience, rather than ‘substantial stress’.

Ofcom, and the ICO will soon be able to exchange information about rouge companies between themselves more easily to aid their investigations. The new regulations will mean that both of these bodies will be able to share information about companies subject to investigation without the company’s prior consent. This will increase the ability of investigators to get the information they require to take action against offending organisations.

Changes to the regulations regarding Payment Protection Insurers are also due to be introduced, with PPI companies being subject to fines of up to a huge 20% of their annual turn over if they hold unlawful unsolicited sales and marketing calls. The increased investigative activities and powers given to the ICO mean that more firms should and will have to bring attention to, and if necessary, adapt their direct marketing practices.

For more information on Direct Marketing regulations use the ICO’s dedicated document.