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Consumers plagued by nuisance calls to benefit from change in law

Wednesday, February 25th 2015 by Dean Reilly

People receiving unsolicited marketing calls will get better protection thanks to a change in the law which increases penalties and makes it easier to prosecute companies making the calls.

Under current legislation, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) must prove a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ through unsolicited or cold-calling before any action can be taken.

The government is now removing this requirement, making it easier for the ICO to intervene in cases and impose fines of up to £500,000 against companies. The changes will come into effect from 6 April 2015.

Companies will still have to comply with ICO rules on direct marketing, which includes screening numbers against the Telephone Preference Service, informing consumers where their numbers were obtained and only recording calls once consent has been given.

In addition, the government confirmed it will look at introducing further measures to hold company executives responsible for unsolicited calls and texts sent by their companies.

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: “For far too long companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm.

“This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on.”

Justice and Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes said that being pestered by unwanted marketing calls can bring “real misery” to members of the public.

He added: “We have already increased the level of fine available to punish rogue companies. This new change in the law will make it easier from now on for the Information Commissioner to take quick and firm action against companies who give so much grief to so many people.”

'Rogue traders'

Mike Lordan, director of external affairs at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), previously told Cable.co.uk that lowering the burden of proof was an important tool in protecting people from unsolicited calls.

Mr Lordan said: “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 ICO received 175,000 complaints related to nuisance calls and texts in 2014.

Since January 2012, the ICO has taken action against nine companies responsible for nuisance calls and text messages, issuing fines totaling £815,000.

Separately, telecoms regulator Ofcom has fined a further seven companies £1,618,000 for abandoned and silent calls.

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