ICO blog: More progress in fight against cold calls and spam texts

They say a week’s a long time in politics, but eight weeks feels like a lifetime in our work to target unwanted marketing calls and texts. That’s how long it’s been since I last blogged on the subject, and in that time we’ve seen a huge amount of progress.

The monetary penalties we’ve issued to those who break the rules around cold calls continue to grab headlines. Since I last wrote, we’ve issued more than a quarter of million pounds worth of fines to three companies, taking our total penalties for calls and texts to £800,000.

The penalties send out a clear message to other companies involved in cold calls or spam text messages that the rules must be followed. They also attract media headlines, and this in turn prompts more people to report their concerns to us.

The effect of coverage on the number of reports we get is shown in the table below. The figures show large rises in the number of calls following two of our most high-profile cases: the penalties issued to Tetrus Telecoms and DM Designs.

In total, we’ve had over 200,000 pieces of evidence provided through our online reporting tool. The new online portal recently published on the website of the consumer group Which? links to our survey and will only help us still further.

Concerns reported to the ICO since March 2012


We’re also being given more access to intelligence from other organisations. We’ve seen a great deal of progress in this area, with our office working closely with several organisations as a result of recent meetings. Particularly of note is our much closer working with the mobile network operators which has resulted in increasing flows of intelligence to target organisations or individuals sending spam texts.

At the forefront of that joint working is our relationship with Ofcom. Ofcom is responsible for addressing abandoned and silent calls – which are often generated by companies responsible for making other forms of nuisance marketing calls – and also overseeing the maintenance of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) register. The work we’re doing with them includes changes to the way companies are able to mask their calls by hiding the number making the call and the development of new guidance to clarify the issues surrounding consent. Ofcom and our office are also in the early stages of carrying out work to assess the effectiveness of the TPS, in order to see how well it is serving consumers and how it can be improved.

These projects are listed in a joint action plan published today, which also lists some of the work we have already undertaken.

We’re also working with Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), the Government department responsible for overseeing the rules around cold calls and spam text messages, around a possible change to the law. The law currently requires us to prove that calls or texts are causing substantial harm or substantial distress before we can issue a penalty. We’ve provided a business case asking the government to reduce the level of harm, so we need to simply prove annoyance or nuisance before acting.

By enabling us to target those companies causing nuisance rather than substantial damage or substantial distress, we’d be able to better target the large number of companies who make hundreds, rather than thousands, of annoying calls. These represent the bulk of calls that frustrate so many of us, and better enabling us to stop them would have a noticeable effect for consumers. This could be a game-changing improvement to how we can stop unwanted calls.

Even with the law as it stands, we’ve got several companies in our sights. Our latest quarterly update reports that five companies are currently in line for penalties after making automated marketing calls to individuals who have not previously provided their consent, with a further two set to receive penalties after making live marketing calls to individuals who are registered with the TPS, or who have directly opted-out.

We have also issued 10 referrals to our international and European counterparts responsible for tackling nuisance calls. The referrals have been sent after we used our existing powers to serve 59 information notices on telecommunications providers, in order to find identify the owners of 8,000 different telephone numbers. Those numbers that we have identified as operating abroad have been passed on to regulators in the United States, Ireland, Belgium and Spain to take action.

Plenty of progress then, but plenty of work still to be done. The next six months promise to be very significant in the fight to stop nuisance calls and texts.

Simon EntwisleSimon Entwisle is responsible for all the ICO’s operational functions, including Customer Contact, Case Resolution, Enforcement and Good Practice as well as the Assistant Commissioners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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