Crackdown on nuisance calls proposed

In late October 2014, the Government announced plans to make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to punish firms who make nuisance calls.

The data protection watchdog currently has the power to impose fines of up to £500,000 for sending unsolicited texts or making unwanted calls, but can only act if there is evidence that the communications have caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’. Under the new plans however, fines can be imposed simply because the communications cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’. Email communications and recorded calls are also included in the plans, which involve amending the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

This will bring the law on nuisance calls and texts in line with the current powers given to telecommunications watchdog Ofcom regarding silent phone calls. Ofcom currently has the power to act if these calls cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’.

Ofcom research shows that 84% of households receive at least one nuisance call during a four week period. According to a report in the Daily Mail, 58% of Britons how feel uneasy about answering the phone as a result of the problem. There have also been many reports of companies calling people who are registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

Previously, the ICO has been prevented from taking action against companies because of the need to prove damage or distress. The ICO for example lost an appeal to the First-tier Information Rights Tribunal, brought by the owner of Tetrus Telecoms after his company had originally been fined £300,000 by the ICO. The Tribunal disagreed with the ICO’s claim that the cumulative effect of sending lots of nuisance texts had resulted in ‘damage and distress’.

According to the ICO, had this proposed change been in force between April 1 2012 and November 30 2012, then a further 50 companies could have been subject to enforcement action.

Explaining the rationale behind the proposed change, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid MP said:

“Being called day after day may not be ‘substantially distressing’, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. I want to make it easier for companies to face the consequences of ignoring the law and subjecting us to calls or texts we have said we don’t want.”

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: ‘The public clearly want to see a stop to nuisance calls and texts. We welcome this proposed change in the law which will enable the ICO to make more fines stick, sending a clear message to the spammers and scammers that the rules around cold calls and spam texts must be followed.

“The majority of rogue marketing firms make hundreds, rather than thousands, of calls and the nuisance is no less a nuisance for falling short of the ‘substantial’ threshold. This change means we could now target those many companies sending unwanted messages – and we think consumers would see a definite drop off in the total number of spam calls and texts.”

The consultation on the proposals closes on December 7 – replies should be sent to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport at the address in the consultation document, and the plans could become law as early as March 2015.

Financial firms who are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority are already subject to tighter rules on sending unsolicited marketing communications, but the proposals could have an impact on claims management companies, or on any other company that currently sends unsolicited texts or makes unsolicited calls. The Claims Management Regulator at the Ministry of Justice said in September 2014 that it had warned seven companies over this practice, and was investigating another six companies.

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.