The questions (and answers) you need to know about tougher laws on nuisance calls

By Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner


At the ICO’s data protection practitioner’s conference this week we’ve been celebrating the success of our long campaign to change the law on nuisance calls and spam texts. Last week the government announced that it is changing the law to make it easier for us to fine companies that break the rules.

At the moment, the ICO has to prove a company has 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 day disturbed by someone offering to sell them solar panels or promising compensation ‘for that accident you had’. The change in the law, coming into effect on 6 April, will mean we just have to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the regulations.

foi-dn-1So who is allowed to phone me?

The law assumes you are happy to receive marketing calls, so any company can phone you up to market their products and services, and they don’t need your permission first. If you don’t want to receive calls, you need to register with the TPS. You can register with the TPS here – don’t forget you can register your mobile phone too.

If you’re registered with the TPS, companies can only phone you if you’ve give your permission. That means being careful with what boxes you’re ticking when you’re signing up to products and services, particularly online. But if you get a call from a company that you don’t think you’ve given your permission to, then let us know.

foi-dn-2Do the tougher laws apply to text messages too?

Yes. The change in the law makes it easier for us to fine the companies behind spam text messages too. The law is already stricter here: any company sending you a marketing text without your permission is already breaking the law.

If you get a message, and you didn’t give your permission, let us know.

foi-dn-3So what does the ICO do with complaints?

So far we’ve been able to raid offices and call centres, prosecute people and issue £865,000 worth of fines. But we want to do more. The law changes announced today will help us to make more fines stick, and more fines should prove a real deterrent to the people making these calls.

foi-dn-4Does that mean we’ll see more fines soon?

We’ve been pushing for this change for two years, and we’re sure it will make a difference. But we can only fine companies that we can prove committed serious breaches of the law after the rules change on 6 April- so we certainly won’t be issuing a fine on 7 April.

What we can do straightaway is collect evidence, and that’s why we need people to report calls and texts to us. We can then start investigating cases, and ultimately issuing penalties.

And between now and April we’ll continue fighting this problem using the tools we have at present – look out for the enforcement action we’ve got lined up very soon against a company that sent nuisance text messages linked to pension savings.

This blog is an updated version of ‘Four things that could change if it’s easier to fine firms behind nuisance calls and texts’

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.

Last updated 04/03/2015 11:00

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4 Responses to The questions (and answers) you need to know about tougher laws on nuisance calls

  1. James Wild says:

    Could you confirm whether you treat spam email in the same way you treat spam text messages, and will enforce with the same zeal? They are both breaches of the same regulations as I understand it.

  2. B M Thorne says:

    I wish the law would make it obligatory for all companies to check that the name of the person they are wanting to call is still registered as the user of the telephone number they have. This would stop companies calling a number that is no longer registered to that person and the new user of the telephone number would then not receive unnecessary calls for the person who used to use that number. I have received up to 10 calls per week for someone who used to have my telephone number over six years ago and even this week received a call from a marketing company asking to speak to the old user.

  3. Hadyn Martin says:

    It. Seems that it will improve when the law is changed

  4. Francis Thompson says:

    Here is an example. I have reported 56 calls from these 0843 numbers that are plaguing the UK networks at the moment. In my case they started 3 months ago. I am still receiving 1 sometimes 2 per day. In other words the ICO have done precisely nothing. Given that it is a UK number how difficult can it be to find out who is doing this? With todays technology it should take about 5 minutes. By extension then we can assume that these new laws will provide no relief at all because no-one is going to enforce them, so its largely an exercise to make the government look like they are doing something about nuisance calls, whereas the truth is that he ICO do almost nothing about preventing them and the service providers even less. Its all very well for mister somebody or other from the ICO to appear on the news recently, huffing and puffing and threatening legal disembowelment for anyone breaching the data protection laws, and another altogether to actual do something. This all leads me to believe that the government consider that these call companies are in some way contributing to the economy and therefore should be allowed to continue driving us all nuts by ringing your phone off the hook at all hours of the day 7 days a week, despite the fact that these calls are ILLEGAL. By further extension the ICO, TPS and the courts who refuse to prosecute on the few occasions that the ICO bother to take legal action, are all complicit in allowing an illegal action to continue to be committed when the evidence can easily be found to prove that the calls are being made and by whom. So if you think that with the new laws that your phone is going to stop ringing off the hook and your privacy is going to be respected and protected, then I would say “don’t hold your breath” because considering the previous performance of the ICO and TPS, its more likely that the problem will get worse. The criminals concerned have very little to fear and that of course is precisely why my phone keeps ringing twice a day every day with a clearly displayed 0843 number. Why not? nothing is going to happen, so why stop calling?

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