Who: Information Commissioner’s Office and Save Britain Money Limited
When: June 2013
Law stated as at: 3 July 2013
What happened: Call centres featured in a “fly on the wall” documentary “The Call Centre” aired on BBC3 were hit with substantial fines for cold calling in breach of UK “do not call” laws.
Swansea-based Save Britain Money Ltd operated call centres “Nationwide Energy Services” and “We claim you gain.”
Between May 2011 and December 2012, ICO and the Telephone Preference Service (which operates the UK’s national “do not call” list) received over 2,700 complaints from recipients of unsolicited calls from these centres, despite their numbers being registered with the Telephone Preference Service (“TPS”).
According to ICO, neither of the centres made adequate checks to see whether the numbers they were calling were registered with the TPS. Following their failure to take “ample opportunities” offered by ICO to put things right, a penalty of £125,000 was imposed on Nationwide Energy Services and We Claim You Gain was penalised to the tune of £100,000.
Save Britain Money said it disagreed that this was the appropriate course of action and intended to appeal. It also announced that it “remained committed to the best interests of our customers at all times.”
Why this matters:
The penalties follow a £90,000 penalty in March 2013 for similar transgressions by Glasgow-based kitchen and bedroom fitting company DM Design.
The news may be good for BBC3 viewing figures as they were announced shortly after screenings of “The Call Centre” series started. They are not so good, however, for Save Britain Money (although they have been reported to be considering an appeal), or the UK telemarketing industry, with ICO indicating that a further ten similar investigations are ongoing.
ICO has also stated that it wants changes to “Do not call” laws, so as to streamline enforcement procedures and make imposing penalties easier.
UK cold calling laws are chiefly contained in the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 at paragraphs 21 and 25. These require that unsolicited marketing calls to landline or mobile phone numbers are not made if these numbers are registered by subscribers with the TPS. The TPS is operated by the Direct Marketing Association under contract to Ofcom.
The Communications Act 2003 also bites on persistent abuse of telecommunications systems at s.127(2) although to date it has principally been used by Ofcom in the battle against silent calls.
It comes as no surprise that the call activity in question here chiefly promoted claim management services for consumers who have been mis-sold payment protection insurance. It remains to be seen whether this running sore for the UK’s marketing and financial services industries will lead to “prior opt in only” for cold calling as many are demanding.