28Nov

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is cracking down on unsolicited marketing calls, emails and texts. The ICO, which upholds standards of practice concerning information rights and data privacy, has monitored 14 companies. Seven of these could face enforcement action, including household names TalkTalk, British Gas, Scottish Power and Anglian Windows. Three more unnamed companies are still under investigation.

In most industries, companies are allowed to make cold telephone calls, but seeking business face-to-face, i.e. calling door-to-door or stopping passersby; making automated calls; and sending unsolicited texts are all prohibited. The Financial Services Authority also bans cold calls to sell certain types of financial product. However, consumers who receive cold calls have the right to request not to be called again by that company, and organisations must also not make cold calls to anyone who has registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

The ICO has taken this action based on complaints it has received, and complaints received by the TPS, with the ICO suspecting that some firms are illegally phoning TPS registered consumers. The ICO received 7,095 complaints regarding cold calls in the period 2011-12, an increase of 43% over a 12 month period.

Four claims management companies (CMCs), all specialising in payment protection insurance (PPI), have already been the subject of action by the ICO. CMCs have been cited by the ICO as a problem industry for cold calling, along with home improvement companies, direct marketers and utility providers.

In July 2012, the ICO was granted the power to impose fines of up to £500,000 for breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations regarding cold calling or sending texts and emails. It has a dedicated team of staff who specialise in monitoring this area. In addition to its own powers of enforcement, the ICO can initiate criminal prosecutions of organisations who break the law.

Simon Entwistle, Director of Operations at the ICO, said in October 2012: “The public have told us that they are increasingly concerned about the illegal marketing texts and calls. These are often made by rogue companies claiming to offer pay outs for accidents a person has never had or PPI claims that they are not necessarily entitled to.

“While companies can phone people to sell them the latest product or service, the law states that individuals should not receive unsolicited texts or automated marketing calls unless they have given their permission. We know many companies are failing to do this and two individuals responsible for sending millions of illegal marketing messages are now facing six figure penalties unless they can prove otherwise.”

In November 2012, charity Citizens Advice called for CMCs to be banned from cold calling. Its research suggested 90% of consumers have received calls, emails or texts from CMCs, of which 72% concerned re-claiming PPI.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy used some rather stark language regarding the matter by saying “These firms are intimidating people in their home and wasting a lot of people’s time.”