A claims management company was stripped of its authorisation in January 2016, for what the Claims Management Regulator at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) described at the time as “the worst excesses of the industry.”
Now the data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has also taken action against the company. It has fined the firm £175,000 after some 5,535 complaints were received by ICO about its automated marketing calls regarding payment protection insurance claims. If payment is made by April 19 2016, the fine will reduce to £140,000.
The firm told the ICO in June 2015 that it had stopped making the marketing calls, yet the watchdog found evidence of the company making 2,475,481 calls in the two months following that. Many customers claimed the company were making calls in the middle of the night – these are two examples of complaints received by the ICO:
“The most annoying and disgusting thing was the time of the call in the early hours of the morning. It woke everyone in the house including young children. It caused me a lot of anxiety as I do not receive calls at that time of day unless it is an emergency or bad news. A family member is currently seriously ill and I immediately thought the worst.”
“They called at half 3 in the morning! I have a sick grandfather dying of cancer, and it was assumed things had taken a turn for the worse. This is a TPS registered number. I hate getting these calls at the best of times. Now they’re ringing at utterly ridiculous times.”
The company claimed the calls had been made by a third party, who had told them that all individuals who were phoned had consented to receiving calls, but this defence did not impress the ICO, who again stressed that companies cannot rely on third party assurances of this type, and must conduct their own checks. Automated calls can only be made to customers who have given explicit consent to receiving them.
The ICO also announced at the same time that another firm had been fined £50,000, leading it to describe Swansea as ‘the UK’s cold call capital’. Six companies in the city have been subject to ICO action in the last three years.
Anne Jones, Assistant Commissioner for Wales, said:
“Our action will send a clear message to callous cold callers operating in Swansea that they must follow the rules.
“We’d previously contacted both of these companies but they showed a blatant disregard for the law by continuing to make nuisance calls. Their action left many people feeling frustrated and harassed.
“Both these firms tried to shift the blame by pointing the finger at a third party. This is not an acceptable defence. It is a company’s responsibility to ensure it does not make marketing calls that break the rules.”
When taking its action back in January, the MoJ said the company had made almost 40 million automated calls over a three month period. They also pressured clients into signing contracts, and took payments, without allowing the clients time to understand the contract terms. The company was in fact in breach of as many as six sections of the Conduct of Authorised Persons Rules.