Information Commissioner's Office
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ICO calls for law change to help clampdown on nuisance calls

The Information Commissioner’s Office will today urge MPs to change the law if they want to see the number of cold calls cut.

Simon Entwisle, the ICO’s Director of Operations, will ask the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to enable the ICO to issue more monetary penalties to companies behind the calls.

The law currently requires the ICO to prove that calls or texts are causing substantial harm or substantial distress before issuing a penalty.

That means only targeting companies responsible for large numbers of calls. But statistics suggest that the problem of nuisance calls is caused by a large number of companies making hundreds, rather than thousands, of annoying calls (see below).

A business case presented by the ICO has asked the government to reduce the level of harm it needs to prove, so an investigation would have to simply prove annoyance or nuisance before acting.

Simon Entwisle said:

“The simple fact is that the law only allows the ICO to prosecute the worst offenders, who are responsible for less than a quarter of the calls that frustrate so many of us.

“A change in the law would allow us to target more of the companies making these cold calls, and would have a noticeable effect for consumers. This could be a game-changing improvement to how we can stop unwanted calls.

“There’s a balance to be struck between a direct marketing industry that relies heavily on making calls, and consumers who feel they’re being bombarded. It’s for MPs to decide where the balance lies, but I think it’s fair to say that most people probably don’t think the law’s getting it right at the moment.”

Complaint figures show that 982 companies prompted complaints to the Telephone Preference Service in June after making cold calls. Eighty two per cent of the companies received fewer than five complaints.

Only 21 of the companies received more than 25 complaints, but even those ‘worst offenders’ were responsible for just a quarter of the total number of complaints were a company was named.

Not enough information was provided for a responsible company to be identified in 1,050 of the 4,786 complaints.

As well as working with MPs, the ICO is also working with companies who make marketing calls. Direct marketing guidance published this week outlines how this can be done in line with the law, particularly focusing on the importance of consent, while a direct marketing checklist has been produced to help companies understand how the law works. The ICO has also published guidance for companies receiving unwanted marketing.

Simon Entwisle added:

“Regulatory enforcement isn’t and should never be the only solution to the problem. There a role for the marketing industry itself to play, and for the telecoms companies too. We’re working with both to help that to happen, and the guidance we’ve published today is prompted in part by that joint working. Important too is consumer education – too often we see that apparent nuisance calls have been prompted by consumers ticking a box to give their consent to receive the call.”

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070 or visit the website at: www.ico.org.uk

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

2. The ICO regulates the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. In Scotland, freedom of information is a devolved matter and Scottish public authorities are subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 which is regulated by the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner in St Andrews.

3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter.

4. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure 
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

5. If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070.

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