The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which oversees data protection in the UK, has fined a personal injury claims company £80,000 for making unsolicited marketing calls.

Over an 18 month period, the ICO received 801 complaints about Bolton-based Direct Assist Ltd making marketing calls to individuals who had registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). 575 of these complaints were initially made to the TPS and then forwarded to the ICO, while the remainder were made direct to the ICO.

The issues concerning this company included:

• An elderly and deaf person informed the company that their calls had left her in fear of answering the phone, yet Direct Assist continued to call her
• One household received 470 calls from the company
• One household repeatedly asked for their details to be removed from the company’s records, yet Direct Assist still informed them that they would continue to call for three years, or until they agreed to make a claim
• The company continued to call a particular number in spite of being repeatedly told that the calls upset the householder’s autistic daughter
• One customer said the repeated calls from Direct Assist caused him to re-live his traumatic car accident
• Another customer said Direct Assist staff ‘laughed at him’ when he asked for calls to cease
• Direct Assist deliberately instructed its staff to phone TPS registered numbers
• The company ignored 525 warnings from the TPS about its conduct
• The company had no documented procedures explaining how it would ensure compliance with the applicable regulations

One of the defences the company attempted to use was to accuse someone else of making the calls using their name.

Steve Eckersley, Head of Enforcement at the ICO said:

“Direct Assist’s behaviour shows a blatant disregard for the law and the customers they tried to contact. Even though the TPS contacted them 525 times to warn them about complaints being made they continued to market their services through unsolicited phone calls.

“This penalty sends a clear message that this type of irresponsible marketing is totally unacceptable. Companies need to think about their responsibilities, the law and the consequences if they try to break it.”

Direct Assist is now in liquidation, so the ICO will need to register as one of the company’s unsecured creditors and see if it can recover the amount that way.

The law regarding the TPS is clear and unambiguous. Individuals that have registered with the TPS should not receive marketing calls unless they have explicitly agreed to receive them.

The ICO can now take action and impose fines if marketing communications cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’. There is no longer a need for the complainant to demonstrate that their nuisance calls caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’, however the ICO did impose this fine under the old rules, and is satisfied that the calls made by Direct Assist did indeed cause ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’.

Fines of up to £500,000 can be imposed for breaches of the regulations.

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.