£200 Million Record Fine for Breaching the Law on Nuisance Calls

£200 Million Record Fine for Breaching the Law on Nuisance Calls

They can be persistent, annoying, frustrating and anything but useful. Whether asking if you’ve made a PPI claim, had a recent accident, or in the case of Home Energy & Lifestyle Management (Helms), a Glasgow-based company that has just received a record £200 million fine, making six million automated calls offering free solar panels, cold calling appears to have become a modern day bane of many peoples’ lives.

In many cases, people receiving cold calling complain it is a waste of their time taking the calls or in some cases, filling up answering machines or voicemail; and the law applies to nuisance calls received by both businesses and consumers.

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

In handing out a record fine to Helms, the ICO stated the company were in breach of the law on two accounts. Firstly, they are obliged to provide a means for consumers to stop receiving such calls; and secondly, the company – part of the government’s Green Deal initiative – was also misleading people in the calls as the solar panels were not free.

“The bottom line is companies trying to sell a product have got to stick to the rules. Nuisance phone calls are a modern pest” … “People expect the Information Commissioner and other agencies to close this down and we’re now closing down on these phone pests,” said the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.

There appears to be some confusion on what the law actually covers on individuals receiving so called ‘nuisance’ calls. The ICO states an organisation should have an individual’s permission before making automated calls, but Helms admitted it did not know what the rules for making automated calls were. According to the ICO, an individual has to ‘tick a box stating they are interested in a particular product from a particular company.’

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO stated:

“This company’s ignorance of the law is beyond belief. It did not even bother to find out what the rules were and its badly thought out marketing campaign made people’s lives a misery.”

Furthermore, when asked, many people assumed that registering your phone number with the Telephone Preference Service, a free service that allows you to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls, you are exempt from receiving the type of nuisance calls. But this service only applies to receiving calls from a real person and not an automated message.

In the fast moving world of communications, where many of us now find we are more contactable 24 hours of the day, there are many reasons why legislation needs clarity and to be addressed to stop nuisance calls that can turn to stress and frustration.