ICO welcomes new powers to fine nuisance callers

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has welcomed its expanded ability to issue fines to companies that make and send nuisance calls and texts.

From today, the ICO will not have to prove that a company has caused substantial damage or distress in order to fine them, but will only have to prove that it has committed a serious breach of the law of privacy and electronic communication regulations.

The ICO has said that its new powers will “make a difference” in the fight to deter companies that contact members of the public over issues such as road traffic accident claims and PPI compensation.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said that the ICO, which issued £360,000 of civil monetary penalties for nuisance calls and texts between April 2014 and March 2015, had been pushing for the change in law for two years.

“The change will help us to make more fines stick, and more fines should prove a real deterrent to the people making these calls,” he said.

“Previously, we’ve had to prove a company had caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by making their nuisance calls. That’s not easy for us to do, no matter how many people have had their privacy disturbed by someone offering to sell them solar panels or promising compensation ‘for that accident you had’.

“Today’s change in the law will mean we just have to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the regulations.”

The law allows companies to make marketing phone calls without prior permission, but they must first check the Telephone Preference Service, which lists individuals who have opted out of marketing calls.

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.

But Graham warned that won’t mean his office handing out penalties immediately.

“We can only fine companies that 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,” he said.

“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 ICO received 175,330 reports of nuisance calls and texts from concerned people in 2014.

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk