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Government to ring changes on telemarketing nuisance calls

31st Mar 2014
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Following intense, longstanding pressure from consumer groups, including Which?, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has published an action plan outlining its commitment to ending nuisance sales calls and texts in the UK.

The publication sets out new measures to be taken by government, regulators, consumer groups and industry in tackling nuisance calls. Which? is one group that has been asked to set up a task force to assist proceedings, with its executive director, Richard Lloyd asked to bring together regulators and industry experts to conduct a detailed review into how consumers give consent to being contacted by marketing firms.

“This Action Plan is a victory for the 110,000 people who backed our campaign to call time on the menace of nuisance calls and texts,” Lloyd says, with regards to the proposed strategy.

“Millions of consumers are bombarded by these calls, often because they weren’t aware that their personal information might be used in third party marketing.

“We now look forward to regulators using their new powers to help stop this growing problem. It’s also important that people continue to report complaints so regulators can crack down on companies who break the rules.”

The Which? campaign Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts launched a year ago, and found that people are often unaware that they have given permission to being contacted by a company for marketing purposes, through third party means.

And marketers are seemingly facing pressure from all angles, with industry associations including the DMA recently outlining further malpractices many businesses are undertaking in relation to their current telemarketing, email and direct mail campaigns.

Landmark victory

A sea change does now appear to be occurring in trying to tackle unsolicited marketing. The TPS, which has campaigned for many years to punish businesses who contact people on its ‘do not call’ list, finally made legal history this March when Dorset County Council used its registry to fine a company £36,000 for making a ‘persistent nuisance’ in contacting elderly and vulnerable people.  

Ofcom is also in the process of putting an end to non-compliance to regulations in call centres, following recent research by Aspect that revealed that nearly two in five senior contact centre representatives know their office does not adhere to Ofcom rules.

“Nuisance calls must stop.  At best they are an irritation and an unwanted intrusion, at worst they cause real distress and fear, particularly to the elderly or housebound,” says culture secretary, Maria Miller. 

“People need to feel safe and secure in their homes. The rules are clear – people have the right to choose not to receive unsolicited marketing calls.  We will work to ensure their choice is respected.”

The report sites that over 120,310 complaints were made by the general public between April and November 2013 in relation to nuisance calls and texts. There were also 2,507 complaints about silent and abandoned call made to Ofcom during this period.

DCMS proposes the following plan of action for adhering to its commitment to dealing with the issue:

·         The Ministry of Justice to launch a consultation on whether regulated companies that breach Claims Management Regulation Unit rules should face fines up to 20 per cent of their annual turnover for offences including using information gathered by unsolicited calls and texts, providing bad services or wasting time and money by making spurious or unsubstantiated claims. This will mean fines of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and potentially millions in some cases.
·         Regulations to be laid in Parliament to simplify how Ofcom can share information with the ICO and the Insolvency Service about rogue companies.
·         Consulting later this year on lowering the threshold for when the ICO can fine companies.  Currently calls must cause ‘substantial damage’ or ‘substantial distress’.
·         Richard Lloyd, Which? Executive Director, to chair a task force to investigate how consumers give and withdraw consent to receiving marketing calls.

The consultation into fines has already started, with regulations expected to be pitched to Parliament sometime next week.   

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