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Regulator hands out largest ever fine to nuisance call company

Monday, February 29th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued its largest ever fine to a company responsible for more than 46m automated nuisance calls.

Lead generation firm Prodial Ltd has been fined £350,000 by the ICO after more than 1,000 people complained about automated calls which played recorded messages relating to PPI claims.

Complainants said they were called repeatedly and often there was no opt-out option.

One person said they were left feeling helpless by the calls, which came at all times of day or night, while a doctor said the constant calls were interfering with work as they had to answer calls in case of emergency.

Companies can use internet phone lines to cheaply make large volumes of recorded marketing calls, but only to people who specifically consented to being contacted in this way.

The ICO, which has the power to impose a penalty of up to £500,000, found that Prodial had no such consent and information from the calls was used to sell people’s personal details on to claims management companies.

The Brighton-based company was operating out of a residential property and hiding its identity, which made it harder for people to report the calls.

The ICO said records suggested the marketing campaign could have produced a turnover of nearly £1m, yet the company had been put into voluntary liquidation by one of its directors.

Its enforcement team is currently working with liquidators to recover the fine.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “This is one of the worst cases of cold calling we have ever come across. The volume of calls made in just a few months was staggering.

'Clear message'

“This was a company that knew it was breaking the law. A company director admitted that once the ICO became involved, the company shut down.

“That stopped the calls, but we want to send a clear message to other firms that this type of law-breaking will not pay. That is why we have handed out our highest ever fine.

“No matter what companies do to try to avoid the law, we will find a way to act.”

The ICO has also ordered three Manchester-based companies to stop making unsolicited nuisance calls after an investigation sparked by 6,000 complaints.

Enforcement notices sent to a network of companies in Sale responsible for millions of automated nuisance calls which covered mis-sold pensions, PPI and debt management order them to stop or face legal action.

They included Advanced Voip Solutions Ltd, which operated out of a Grade II listed building in Sale, as well as two other associated companies, Money Help Marketing Ltd and Preferred Pension LLP, which generated leads from a call centre in the same town.

A fourth company, The Review Experts Ltd, has been dissolved.

Andy Curry, group enforcement manager at the ICO, said: “Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly easy to set up an operation that makes automated calls because you don’t need specialist equipment, a huge staff or fancy premises.

“But they can’t hide from us. We’ll continue to keep one step ahead of them and crack down on illegal practices.”

Last week Baroness Neville-Rolfe, minister for data protection and nuisance calls, told the Direct Marketing Association’s conference on data protection that nuisance calls shouldn’t be dismissed as an “unfortunate by-product of the rapid growth in data-led marketing” but as a form of harassment.

She said the government is exploring potential options for further regulation that will help fight the “scourge” of unwanted marketing calls.

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