Welcoming recent government changes, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:
“The rules around marketing calls have been a licence for spammers and scammers, and people are sick of them. This law change gives consumers the chance to fight back.
“We still need people to report these calls to us, but now we can use those complaints to better target the companies behind this nuisance.”
Electronic marketing, including marketing calls and texts, are covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). The regulations require organisations to have an individual’s consent to make automated marketing calls or send marketing texts to that person.
For live marketing calls, the organisation must not contact people that have opted out of receiving them; most commonly by registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
The Information Commissioners Office currently has the power to issue penalties of up to £500,000 if able to prove that the marketing calls or messages caused, or had the potential to cause, ‘substantial damage or distress’. The ICO has called for this bar to be lowered to make it easier to fine companies who are breaching the regulations but who would currently not meet this statutory bar.
The changes which came into effect on 6 April 2015.
1. Spam texters held to account
Any company sending you a marketing text without your permission is already breaking the law. As it stands, the law requires the ICO to prove ‘substantial harm or substantial distress’ and now this threshold has been reduced. Making it easier for ICO to make fines stick should create more of a deterrent, and that would lower how many nuisance messages we all get.
2. Companies will need to play by the rules
It’s a myth that nuisance calls are all from a handful of bad guys. In September, the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) received over 2,000 complaints about nuisance calls. Of those, 38 companies featured in more than ten complaints. That suggests they’re probably breaking the law, but not in a way serious enough for the ICO to be able to fine them.
3. More fines means fewer calls and texts
While fines for nuisance calls and texts are relatively new, recent independent analysis of those Data Protection Act fines showed that 60 per cent of organisations had looked to improve their compliance with the law after a company in their sector was fined. More fines for companies making nuisance calls and sending spam texts should have the same affect.
4. People complaining will be more important than ever
The ICO received 161,720 concerns about nuisance calls and texts in 2015. That’s a lot of people who want to see us take action, and their complaints have meant the ICO has been able to raid offices and call centres, prosecute people and issue fines. You can report a nuisance call or a spam text to the ICO online.
Have these changes proved worthwhile?
Since the change in the law was introduced, the ICO has issued fines totalling more than £2 million compared with just £360,000 during the previous 12 months.
So that’s a YES