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Campaigners back tougher nuisance call laws

Wednesday, October 29th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

Campaigners and regulators have welcomed the launch of a government consultation into ways to make it easier to impose fines on companies responsible for making nuisance calls and sending spam texts.

The government has published a six-week consultation into lowering the legal threshold before firms can be fined up to £500,000 if they are found to be responsible for nuisance calls or texts.

The law currently requires the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which enforces the laws covering telemarketing and SMS marketing, to prove that a company has caused “substantial damage or substantial distress”.

It is hoped that this will be reduced to causing “annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety”.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) announcement has been welcomed by campaigners and industry bodies.

Jo Connell, chair of the Communications Consumer Panel, which works to protect consumers’ interests in the communications sector, told Cable.co.uk: "The panel really welcomes that the government is consulting on lowering the legal threshold before firms responsible for nuisance calls and texts can be fined.

"We will be responding to the consultation in due course.

"We have long argued that people cannot make an informed decision about whether to answer a call if they cannot see immediately whether a caller’s number is displayed – and if so, what that number is.

"We would like it to be mandatory for all business calls to carry an authentic and returnable caller line identification (CLI) - with an exemption process for those that may have a legitimate reason for withholding e.g. abuse shelters.

"We have also argued for CLI to be offered automatically to consumers, free of charge.

"As CLI is one of the main available defence mechanisms against nuisance calls it is only logical for it to be freely available for all consumers.

"People who receive nuisance calls can also use the CLI to report those calls to regulators."

Mike Lordan, director of external affairs at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), said lowering the burden of proof would be an important tool in protecting people from nuisance calls.

The DMA manages the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) under licence from Ofcom. The TPS is an official opt-out register where people can record their preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls.

Mr Lordan told Cable.co.uk: “The DMA has been spearheading the industry’s initiatives to tackle the problem of nuisance calls and text spam, and has called for legislative changes to make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to issue penalties to rogue companies breaking the law.

“It’s good news for the telemarketing industry that DCMS has now launched its long-promised consultation on nuisance calls and spam text.

“The recent surge in complaints has been driven in the main by rogue companies making PPI and accident claims calls.

“Lowering the burden of proof will be an important tool in protecting the telemarketing industry and consumers from the scourge of nuisance calls.”

The move was also welcomed by Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, who said the proposed changes would allow the ICO to make more fines stick.

The ICO’s annual report, published in July, revealed that the number of complaints from the public about nuisance calls and spam text increased by 4% between April 2013 and March 2014.

Mr Graham said: “The public clearly want to see a stop to nuisance calls and texts.

“We welcome this proposed change in the law which will enable the ICO to make more fines stick, sending a clear message to the spammers and scammers that the rules around cold calls and spam texts must be followed.

“The majority of rogue marketing firms make hundreds, rather than thousands, of calls and the nuisance is no less a nuisance for falling short of the ‘substantial’ threshold.

“This change means we could now target those many companies sending unwanted messages – and we think consumers would see a definite drop off in the total number of spam calls and texts.”

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We welcome the Government’s proposals to make it easier for the ICO to take enforcement action against companies responsible for unsolicited sales calls and spam texts”.

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