Port Talbot, South Wales-based lead generation company Oxygen Limited has been fined £120,000 by data protection regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after it made more than two million unsolicited automated calls regarding debt management services.
Although the message invited recipients to press 9 to opt out, the recipients had not consented to receiving these calls. The message also incorrectly claimed that the communication was a “government awareness call”, and gave no indication of who the firm making the calls was.
Firms must identify themselves at the start of each marketing communication, and provide their contact details; and must not suggest they are in any way connected with the government or a public body if this is not the case. Automated calls cannot be made to anyone who has not explicitly consented to receiving them – including an ‘opt out’ option within the call is not sufficient.
Oxygen’s defence was that the calls were made by another party on its behalf, and that this other party had undertaken not to call consumers who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service. Oxygen also told the ICO that another third party, from whom the list of telephone numbers was published, had informed them that all the persons on the list had opted in to receiving marketing communications. However, the ICO was unlikely to be swayed by this attempt to deflect blame, as firms who instigate marketing calls must satisfy themselves that the recipients have opted in, and not rely on the assurances of others.
Steve Eckersley, Head of Enforcement at the ICO, said:
“This is a classic example of a company that has ignored the regulations. Companies making recorded marketing calls like this need permission, and need to be clear who is making the calls. Oxygen Ltd did neither, and even falsely implied they were part of a government campaign.
“If they thought they could avoid detection by paying a separate company to make the calls, or by presenting the calls as coming from a mobile phone number, they were mistaken. The public complained about these calls, and we have acted.
“This should be a lesson to all businesses, if you set up a marketing campaign it falls to you to provide proof of consent for every automated call made and to identify your business as the company making the calls.
“Any company acting the way Oxygen did can expect to be investigated and receive a large fine from the ICO.”
The ICO believes it would have been unable to take action against Oxygen had the law not been changed in April 2015. But now the ICO can take enforcement action simply because the calls cause annoyance or inconvenience to recipients, whereas previously the watchdog needed to demonstrate ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ had been caused. Of the 2,038,067 automated calls made on Oxygen’s behalf, 1,015,268 were made after the change in legislation on 6 April 2015.
Oxygen’s fine will be reduced by 20% to £96,000 if it pays the sum due by December 7 2015. The full amount of £120,000 will be payable if it fails to pay by this date, or if it appeals the judgement to the First-Tier Tribunal.
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