Government Cracks Down on Nuisance Calling Companies

Author: Department of Culture, Media & Sport

25th February 2015

Government makes it easier for companies making unwanted marketing calls and texts to be hit with fines of up to £500,000

Consumers plagued by nuisance calls and texts will benefit from the Government changes to the law, which will make it easier for those firms responsible to be hit with fines of up to £500,000.

The law currently requires the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to prove a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by their conduct before action can be taken. Following a six-week public consultation, the Government is now removing this legal threshold, giving the ICO the power to intervene in more cases. This change will come into effect from 6 April 2015.

The Government also confirmed it will look at introducing measures to hold board level executives responsible for nuisance calls and texts. This follows a report from the Which?-led taskforce last December, which called for a review of the rules in order to act as a stronger deterrent to rogue companies.

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

For far too long companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm.

This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on. We’re also going to look at whether the powers the ICO have to hold to account board level executives for such behaviour are sufficient or we need to do more.

The Government is committed to tackling the problem of nuisance calls. In July last year, the rules were changed to make it easier for Ofcom to share information with the ICO on companies breaking the law. This is already helping in the ICO’s efforts in taking more action. In addition, the Government is looking to introduce mandatory caller line identification (CLI) so that all marketing callers will have to display their telephone numbers.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, who chaired the Nuisance Calls Task Force said:

We welcome the Government making good on its promise to change the law so it’s easier to prosecute nuisance callers. These calls are an everyday menace blighting the lives of millions so we want the regulator to send a clear message by using their new powers to full effect without delay.

It’s also good news that the Government has listened to our call and is looking into how senior executives can be held to account if their company makes nuisance calls.

Justice and Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes said:

Being pestered by unwanted marketing calls and texts can bring real misery for the people on the receiving end. We have already increased the level of fine available to punish rogue companies. This new change in the law will make it easier from now on for the Information Commissioner to take quick and firm action against companies who give so much grief to so many people.

Nuisance calls and texts remains a significant concern for consumers – in some cases they are not only annoying, but can also cause distress especially amongst vulnerable people in society. The latest data and research shows that:

Around four out of five people surveyed by consumer group Which? said they are regularly cold-called at home, with a third of them left feeling intimidated.

There were 15,642 complaints related to nuisance calls and texts made to the ICO in November 2014, of which solar panel accounted for 2,377, whilst for PPI the figure was 1,830.

In total there were over 175,000 complaints related to nuisance calls and texts made to the ICO for 2014.

Currently the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has powers to take enforcement action against companies who flout the existing rules on direct marketing. Since January 2012, the ICO has taken enforcement action against nine companies for nuisance calls and text messages, hitting them with fines totalling £815,000. Separately, Ofcom has powers to deal with abandoned and silent calls by taking action against offenders that persistently misuse a network or service resulting in annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety. Since 2012, Ofcom has fined seven companies totalling £1,618,000 for abandoned and silent calls.

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