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Nuisance Calls in the UK: The Crackdown Continues

Nuisance calls

Nuisance calling - obnoxious, un permissioned telemarketing, is a pervasive problem in the UK, and a key area of action for the data protection authority.

How big of a problem is it you wonder? Well, recently 2 companies selling Nuisance Call Blocking services were fined for making many obnoxious nuisance calls trying to sell their nuisance call blocking services.

Many of the calls are made by lead generation centers who try to locate people who would be interested in a certain service or product. Then the leads are sold to companies that would provide that service. 

The ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) publishes stats on the topics of the calls as well as the delivery method - text messages, live calls from humans, and automated calls. The topics vary from the expected - insurance, banking, debt management, and energy supply services, to the more interesting such as oven cleaning, solar panel installation, and of course the Nuisance Call Blocking services.

Some notable fines in 2015 include: 

  • £295,000 of fines for companies offering call blocking or nuisance call prevention services
  • A £80,000 fine to a PPI claims firm that sent 1.3million text messages
  • A £200,000 fine to a solar panels company that made six million nuisance calls
  • A £130,000 fine to a pharmacy company that was selling customer details to postal marketing companies

The ICO recently warned companies making nuisance calls to expect more fines in 2016. They imposed more than a million pounds worth of penalties for nuisance calls and text messages in 2015, with the same amount in the pipeline for early 2016.

Changes to legislation lowered the legal threshold before firms responsible for nuisance calls and texts could be fined for amounts of up to £500,000. Previously the law required the ICO to prove a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by their conduct. That was a very high test to pass, and as a result there had only been nine prosecutions prior to the change.

Another proposal would require direct marketing callers to display their telephone numbers under Government plans to tackle the scourge of nuisance calls. It is common for both live and automated calls not to provide valid caller ID.

The Information Commissioner is once again calling for stronger sentences for data thieves. This comes after an employee of a car rental agency stole the records of 28,000 customers and sold them. Unscrupulous call "cowboys" are known to pay people to steal personal data, in this case £5,000 in cash. 

Penalties are limited to fines, which are ineffective deterrents. The Commissioner says he would "… like to see the courts given more options: suspended sentences, community service, and even prison in the most serious cases."