ICO fines CMC over nuisance calls

In September 2014, information watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) handed a fine of £70,000 to Paignton-based claims management company (CMC) EMC Advisory Services Ltd (Emcas), after hundreds of customers complained about its nuisance calls.

Between March 1 2013 and February 28 2014, 562 complaints were made to the Telephone Preference Service about a third-party marketing firm used by Emcas. The marketing firm failed to check whether customers had opted out of receiving marketing calls before making contact.

A further 68 complaints were made to the ICO about calls made directly from Emcas. Around half the complainants say that the CMC ignored previous instructions not to call them. One of these customers even alleged that the company had informed him directly that they would ignore his request for the calls to stop.

The calls reportedly continued after the company had been warned by the ICO regarding its practices.

Emcas offers a wide ranging claims service, offering to help with complaints about investments, packaged bank accounts and endowments, as well as payment protection insurance (PPI).

Head of Enforcement at the ICO, Stephen Eckersley, commented:

“Getting other businesses to make marketing calls on your behalf does not absolve you of your legal responsibilities. EMC Advisory Services Limited has received today’s penalty because they fundamentally failed to understand the law and didn’t act on our warning. The result was that hundreds of people continued to receive nuisance calls due to their actions.”

A spokesman for EMCAS said:

“We aim to ensure that we only contact people who have given their permission for us to do so. However, between March 2013 and February 2014, this aim was not met for a small percentage of our customers, and we failed to prevent some unwanted calls from being made; for this, we offer our sincerest apologies.
“Since the ICO findings were first brought to our attention in February, we have made significant changes to our business to ensure that we only contact people who have explicitly consented to receive such communication.”

The Claims Management Regulator at the Ministry of Justice has now commenced its own investigation into Emcas.
The action was brought under the existing Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, which requires the ICO to demonstrate that the calls caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’. The watchdog believes that the cumulative effect of this volume of calls does indeed meet this test.

In late October 2014, the Government announced plans to make it easier to punish firms who make nuisance calls. Under the new plans, fines can be imposed simply because the communications cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’.
Emcas was previously ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to change a misleading advertisement which stated that one in four investments had been mis-sold. Wakefield-based financial adviser Neil Liversidge successfully argued to the ASA that the ‘one in four’ statistic only applied to banks and not to firms such as his own.

The information shown in this article was correct at the time of publication. Articles are not routinely reviewed and as such are not updated. Please be aware the facts, circumstances or legal position may change after publication of the article.