Consumers urged to turn tables on nuisance callers

NEW laws coming into force today which make it easier to punish companies who make nuisance calls and texts will “make a difference”, the privacy watchdog has said.

Cold calls will no longer have to be proved to have caused distress. Picture: PA

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it now just had to prove a company had committed a serious breach of the law to issue a fine.

Previously, it had to prove those responsible for nuisance calls or spam texts had caused “substantial damage or substantial distress”. The ICO said that was “not easy for us to do”.

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Four in five people are regularly cold-called at home and around one-third are left feeling intimidated, according to research by the Which? consumer group.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “We’ve been pushing for this change for two years, and we’re sure it will make a difference. The change will help us to make more fines stick, and more fines should prove a real deterrent to the people making these calls.”

But he added: “We can only fine companies we can prove committed serious breaches of the law after the rules changed, so we can’t fine companies for something they did last week.

“We’ll be collecting evidence for investigations under the new rules from today.

“That means we need people to report calls and texts to us.

“We can then start investigating cases, and ultimately issuing penalties.”

The law allows companies to make marketing phone calls without prior permission, but they must first check the telephone preference service (TPS), which lists individuals who have opted out of such contact.

Companies need permission before they can send marketing text messages, and should always give details of how the recipient can opt out of any future messages.

However, the TPS does not apply to mobile numbers or text messages. It is also difficult for the authorities to prevent calls from call centres based overseas.

The ICO received 175,330 reports of nuisance calls and texts last year.

It issued £360,000 of fines in the year to last month.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Unwanted calls disrupt the lives of millions every day, so it is good news it’s now easier for regulators to prosecute nuisance callers.

“Regulators must send a crystal clear message to firms that nuisance calling is unacceptable by using these new powers to maximum effect.

“We urge everyone to report their unwanted calls and texts to help regulators identify firms flouting the rules.

“We also want the [UK] government to explore how senior executives can be held to account if their company makes unlawful calls.”

Mike Crockart, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nuisance calls, who is fighting to retain his Edinburgh West seat at Westminster for the Liberal Democrats, has welcomed the tighter regulations.

He said: “A number of high-profile appeals have shown weakness in the ICO’s enforcement powers.

“While the ICO was able to issue civil monetary penalties to companies found to be breaking the rules, it was widely known that if appealed, they would likely be overturned.

“This situation resulted in a number of companies escaping without penalty after causing stress, misery and frustration to millions of people across the UK.

“This sends a loud and clear message that if you break the rules, you will be identified and fined.”