Four things that could change if it’s easier to fine firms behind nuisance calls and texts

By Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner.

nuisance-call-white-bThe government has today announced that it wants to make it easier for the ICO to fine companies that make nuisance calls or send spam text messages. But what could that mean in practice?

1. Spam texters held to account

Any company sending you a marketing text without your permission is already breaking the law. But a court ruled against a fine we issued in 2012 to someone who was doing just that. As it stands, the law requires the ICO to prove ‘substantial harm or substantial distress’. Although we’ve used what powers we have, that court decision did limit our powers to fine firms sending spam texts. Making it easier for us to make fines stick should create more of a deterrent, and that would lower how many nuisance messages we all get.

2. Companies will need to play by the rules

It’s a myth that nuisance calls are all from a handful of bad guys. In September, the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) received over 2,000 complaints about nuisance calls. Of those, 38 companies featured in more than ten complaints. That suggests they’re probably breaking the law, but not in a way serious enough for the ICO to be able to fine them. The law change proposed today would change that, and I think we’d see a lot of these companies cleaning up their act.

3. More fines means fewer calls and texts

While fines for nuisance calls and texts are relatively new, we’ve had the power to issue fines for other data breaches for four and a half years now. Recent independent analysis of those Data Protection Act fines showed that 60 per cent of organisations had looked to improve their compliance with the law after a company in their sector was fined. More fines for companies making nuisance calls and sending spam texts should have the same affect.

4. People complaining will be more important than ever

We received 161,720 concerns about nuisance calls and texts last year – that’s more than twice the number of people who filled the World Cup final stadium this summer. That’s a lot of people who want to see us take action, and their complaints have meant we’ve been able to raid offices and call centres, prosecute people and issue fines. But we want to do more. The law changes proposed today would help us do that, but we still need people to report the companies breaking the rules. You can report a nuisance call or a spam text to us online.

Christopher GrahamChristopher Graham, Information Commissioner, has a range of responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and related laws.

Press statement

Information Commissioner Christopher 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.”

Last updated 25/10/2014

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8 Responses to Four things that could change if it’s easier to fine firms behind nuisance calls and texts

  1. Loretta Gooch says:

    this is not a reply to your blog, more a comment about the survey. It is very difficult to remember the content of a single nuisance call, and one off calls are not so annoying as repeated ones, daily or weekly or monthly. It is not always convenient to answer them. It may be better to ask how frequently you get them, at what times and what is the nature of the convenience e.g. for a disabled person, or expecting an important call, or otherwise ‘engaged’ etc. Because the nuisance value builds up with repetition, and variety. I regularly get at least three different types. I have ‘caller display’ which reduces some of them – ‘International’ or ‘unavailable number’, or a long unrecognised (if I have time to note it!) number. The ones I find most worrying are the ‘Withheld number’ ones. When my GP’surgery phones, it is always a withheld number, and there are other similar situations when I am loathe to miss their call, but equally annoyed when it is unsolicited and irrelevant to me. WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

    • What about caller number withheld nuisance calls? If you cannot trace the caller via 1471 how can you report it and hope to get action? I think caller not known should be banned. Also what about foreign sourced nuisance calls?

  2. Yvonne says:

    keep reporting them, I am spending more time at home and as not lived here long have not given out landline number so I know it isn’t anyone I know. In less than 2 weeks I have received more than 23 calls 14 PPI 7 BT partner 2 Touch, I just wait for them to ring then do 1471 and make a note of number and time. If they could bring back hanging that would be good for these idiots who have no idea of the stress it causes.

  3. Christopher Whitmey says:

    The Government action and consultation is good news indeed.
    For many years my telephone number has been registered with the TPS: but still they phone. Having registered with TPS I have a legitimate expectation that my privacy will be respected: not that I need to prove ‘substantial damage or distress’.
    At present the caller is the offender and not any contractor who provides the telephone numbers. I’ve had local callers (numbers provided by a third party) who have profusely apologised when I say I’m TPS registered.
    I ask that consideration is given to make it a criminal offence to supply data that includes TPS numbers.

  4. The point that everyone seems to miss here is that these calls/texts are ALREADY ILLEGAL. So what we are discussing and consulting on I can’t imagine. If I go out and steal a car or break windows in the high street, no-one has to prove “substantial damage or distress” before they can fine me, BECAUSE IT IS ILLEGAL. So… seems to me that anyone who makes a nuisance call or sends a spam text should automatically be fined, even if it is only one. I am not really surprised about the judge ruling against the ICO since judges are well known as being nothing but an out of touch crowd of judicial elite who know nothing about the lives of ordinary people.
    The mere fact that a perpetrator of these criminal calls will go to such efforts to conceal their number or to display a “spoof” number that is changed the next time they call, indicates that they are well aware what they are doing is illegal. In my view that removes any possible justification or excuse. They are criminals who are abusing my basic right to peace and quite in my own home.
    In addition I do not believe for one minute that these people are untraceable. This is 2014 not 1960 and the technology to find these people instantly DOES exist. All of which leads me to believe that the government is not really interested in stopping these calls because some sad individual somewhere in the political hierarchy thinks it encourages the economy. Words fail me. TPS? I wont even bother to comment on them, utter waste of time.

  5. Krrishna says:

    It’s more relief to have peaceful life if this can be implemented . I have been receiving calls from accident insurance claim companies which is irrelevant to me or not applicable to me. I got fed up receiving this calls after 7pm. To avoid this i am stopped using landline number.

  6. j hughes says:

    fine them ,the firms that think they can do what they like ,there a pain and into peoples private lives .a nusence to society

  7. Stewart Keating says:

    I received a text on my PAYG mobile from 82344, which I replied to. Altho’ the message made no mention of costs, I subsequently received texts every week or two. Eventually found out how to stop them, but also found out that I was being charged £2.50 for receiving the texts (always deleted). Apparently telephone companies cannot stop the practice. Eventually me case was handled by PhonePayPlus, who reprimanded to texter, fined them £70k and ordered them to refund monies to anyone affected (you have to claim, doesn’t come automatically). I’ve had £75 back, altho’ this doesn’t compensate for the wiorry, and the replacemen t phone |I bought because I thought the phone was self-dialling (old Nokia with exposed key pad). Iwould be delighted to join a campaign to get the law changed so that you can only get charged for calls you make, not for calls you receive. It has to be ibn the gift of our lawmakers to do this.

    Also, while the TPS does help a bit with landline calls, they can’t do anything about calls from outside the UK..

    Our landline company (TalkTalk) offers a free call-barring facility, but you would be unwise to ban Private Callers – as hospitals, GPs etc use that designation.

    Hope this helps

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