Updates to Nuisance Calls Regulations and Mandatory CLI Presentation
6th April – Nuisance Call Regulations Tighten their Grip
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is going to completely remove a legal threshold that must be met before the ICO can issue fines to companies that conduct nuisance calls. In a recent statement, Information Commissioner Christopher Grayham described the current regulations as a “licence for spammers and scammers”, explaining that the new changes to be introduced give consumers a chance to fight back. The statement followed confirmation from the DCMS that changes to the law regarding nuisance calls will take effect from the 6th of April.
Despite the continuing efforts of the ICO, regulations have so far meant that it can be very difficult to issue fines to organisations that are responsible for nuisance calls. Up until now, nuisance calls have had to reach a specific threshold, which states that the call(s) must cause ‘substantial damage or distress’ before a civil monetary penalty can be issued to the offending organisation. This has had the effect of letting many firms off the hook, as there has often been insufficient evidence that substantial distress was caused, despite the fact that nuisance call recipients may often have been left extremely irritated and fed up. This pattern seems to have become somewhat ubiquitous, and has lead to a possible reluctance for the ICO to issue further penalties for fear that the calls would not be seen to meet the legal threshold.
The Government has confirmed that it will not (as previously suggested) simply lower the legal threshold for the ICO to take action, but that it will remove it altogether. Of course, the offending company will still have to have breached one or more of the PECR regulations, but organisations responsible for nuisance calls will not longer be able to hide under the blanket of the current threshold and avoid the consequences of their actions. This is big news for the telecoms industry, and outbound call centres will do well to pay attention to what they are legally required to do with regards to electronic marketing. The ICO has said it is confident that it can cope with the increased work load that will result from the lowering of the threshold, and the increase in investigative activity that will be required.
CLI Presentation to Become a Legal Requirement
The DCMS has also announced that they are looking to introduce mandatory CLI presentation for sales and marketing calls. This means companies would be required by law to present a telephone number when they make an outbound call. Because this is not currently a legal requirement, many firms are withholding the originating CLI, making it much more difficult for recipients to trace back the company that has called them. Under the new law, if a nuisance call is received, companies will HAVE to display a telephone number, and recipients should be able to call back and either leave a voicemail, hear an automated message with details of how to contact the company, or be connected to a representative of the company that called them.
For companies that withhold their numbers when making sales and marketing calls, the new regulation could make CLI localisation services more attractive. These companies may see a lot of value in presenting a number that is local to the call recipient, but still allows traceability by the called party, and compliance with the new law.
What effect will the removal of the “substantial damage or distress” threshold have on the call centre industry?
The removal of the threshold will mean that call centres must ensure that their agents are well trained, calls are routinely monitored for training purposes, and that disciplinary procedures are in place to avoid any risks associated with accusations of nuisance calls being made. Ensuring that the content of a call and the conduct of the agent does not result in a complaint is now vital to avoid significant legal and financial implications for call centre senior management.
Obviously other factors would be considered before legal action is taken, however ensuring best practices are adopted, such as ensuring diallers are well maintained and managed to avoid silent calls, only calling consumers not registered with the TPS for marketing campaigns, ensuring a called party is not repeatedly called to create a nuisance, will all help to reduce the possibility of complaints being generated. In relation to debt collection agencies however, there will need to be a very careful assessment of evidence. For example, if a debt collector is attempting to recover an outstanding debt, then the consumer may try to avoid their financial obligations by citing “substantial damage or distress”, so other agencies may need to be involved in cases such as this.
Do you think the ICO will be able to cope with their increased investigative workload?
The ICO receives many thousands of complaints each year, and I think their current frustration is that many of these complaints are repeat reports for known companies that may have previously avoided legal action due to the threshold in place resulting in failed legal proceedings. I don’t necessarily foresee a significant change in the investigatory work required on a per case basis, in fact it may well become less due to the removal of the threshold. However the fact that the threshold is to be removed, may result in an increase in complaints if consumers can see that there is a greater chance of action being taken.
What effect will mandatory CLI presentation have on call centres and consumers?
The presentation of a CLI for call centres has been a requirement under the Ofcom CLI Guidelines for many years, however there are still companies who do not present a valid CLI or withhold their CLI. This causes frustration for consumers who often receive repeated calls with the inability to easily identify who has called them. This in turn, demands time from Communication Providers to trace calls through networks and identify the originator. Ensuring that a CLI is presented to the called party ensures that the consumer is able to contact the originator of the call and aid call tracing, as well as being able to raise complaints directly to the call centre – if a call centre wishes to speak to a consumer, then it would make sense that the consumer should be able to at the very least contact the company that wanted to call them originally, without having to resort to tracing the number through Ofcom number listings and the rangeholder.
Some suggestions have been made that nuisance calls are now too big of a problem to solve. Will changes like this eventually put the issue to bed? Or will people still be receiving nuisance calls in 10 years time?
Nuisance calls are primarily experienced as a result of either technical or capacity issues, e.g. where a dialler does not have sufficient agents to answer a call it has placed; a one-way audio fault in a network, etc. which results in silent calls – or by poorly managed/trained call centres/agents who cause unnecessary distress to a consumer. Technical issues will occur, but can be explained, and measures put in place to resolve them; and human nature is such that, unfortunately, certain individuals do make nuisance calls – either due to the pressure of needing to hit a sales target or through poor training, etc. Regulation in the industry can reduce the problem by ensuring that the facilities available (e.g. using TPS screened numbers for unsolicited marketing; ensuring CLI’s are presented; ensuring that a consumer can call a company back to complain/return a call) are implemented and are reasonably enforced. I do not believe it is too late to solve this issue, however it requires co-operation between all parties to ensure that the regulations and guidelines are adhered to, and enforced where necessary.