Two call centres which feature in the BBC Three series, The Call Centre, have been fined £225,000 for nuisance calls. The Information Commissioner said that the fine included the first in the UK relating to Payment Protection Insurance cold calls.
So what did they do wrong, and how can you protect yourself against nuisance calls?
The finesThe companies in question were Nationwide Energy Services, which received a penalty of £125,000, and We Claim You Gain, which was fined £100,000. Both companies are part of Save Britain Money Ltd based in Swansea.
The penalties were issued after the companies were found to be responsible for over 2,700 complaints to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) or reports to the ICO using its online survey, between 26 May 2011 and end of December 2012.
The TPS is a UK database, which allows consumers to opt out of receiving marketing calls. Before a sales company is allowed to contact you, it needs to check the TPS to ensure you have given firms permission to contact you. This is a legal requirement under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations governing electronic marketing.
ICO Director of Operations, Simon Entwisle, said:"The public have told us that they are fed up with the constant bombardment of nuisance calls. While the activities of Nev and his call centre employees have provided entertainment for many, they hide a bigger problem within the cold calling industry. People have the legal right not to receive marketing calls and these companies have paid the price for failing to respect people's wishes."
The ICO has now issued penalties totalling over three-quarters of a million pounds to companies who've breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. A further 10 investigations are ongoing.
Ongoing problemsHowever, clearly a major problem still remains with companies flouting the rules. As we reported last week, a survey by Which? found that many consumers are unhappy with the TPS. While people registered with the TPS report a decrease in nuisance calls after signing up, they received on average 10 unsolicited calls in the last month. Around six in 10 people registered with the TPS are not satisfied with the service.
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:"Consumers are sick and tired of being bombarded with nuisance calls and texts. The current system is failing the public and given the scale of this problem, it's time for the Government to step in. We urgently need to see a new approach, new laws and new technology to tackle this scourge on people's lives. People must be put back in control of their personal data."
Entwisle added:"While we're pleased with our success to date, there is still more we can do, and we welcome discussions in the House of Commons last week around ways to improve the law around unwanted marketing calls and texts. We'd like to see it made easier for us to issue penalties to companies who are breaking the rules. Similarly, everyone involved seems to agree that the rules on how consumers give their consent to receive calls needs to be clearer."
So what can you do?Clearly the TPS is not perfect, but at the very least we ought to be signed up to it, so that those who check the database will avoid calling.
If after signing up you receive a nuisance call, you can report it on the ICO online reporting tool. The ICO has received over 200,000 responses since the survey was setup in March last year and it uses reports to drive enforcement action.
If after all of this you are still being bothered, you could always follow the lead of Richard Herman, a 53-year-old business owner from Sunbury on Thames, who told a nuisance caller he would charge for his time if they called again, and when the calls continued he issued an invoice. When the invoice remained unpaid for 30 days he took them to the small claims court - where they settled the matter out of court.