A Bognor Regis firm broke the law because it called people registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
IT Protect Ltd has been fined £40,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for the offence.
It is the first fine for nuisance calls issued by the ICO since it took over management of the TPS.
Steve Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said:
“Ironically, this firm was making nuisance calls to people to sell them a call blocking device. But by phoning people registered with the TPS it broke the law and that’s why we’ve issued this fine.
“Our investigation was aided by members of the public reporting the nuisance calls they’d received from IT Protect to us. They told us the firm had preyed on the elderly and misled people by giving the impression they were working with BT.”
IT Protect told the ICO it had purchased a list of people and phone numbers from another firm. The ICO’s investigation, which involved support from West Sussex Trading Standards, found IT Protect had not carried out sufficient checks to ensure that the people on the list had given consent to receive the calls.
The law around electronic marketing says that calls should not be made to anyone who has registered with the TPS unless they have told the caller that they wish to receive such calls from them. Companies failing to screen against the TPS, who then call people without consent, can expect enforcement action by the ICO.
Mr Eckersley said:
“Firms must take reasonable steps to ensure the law is followed when they’re buying lists of people’s personal details. IT Protect did not do this, resulting in distress for people receiving the calls – and an ICO fine.”
Complaints made to the ICO about the calls from IT Protect included:
“Alleged to be calling from BT to block unwanted calls at a cost of 45 pence a week. When challenged and questioned he rang off.”
“He claimed to be working with BT…They seemed devoid of any sense of irony in ringing a number registered with the TPS to sell a nuisance call blocker.”
“I answered the call on behalf of my elderly father. She asked for my deceased mother and then my father. She then asked if he was registered with the TPS. I confirmed he was. I was then asked for £1.80 a month to stop phone calls. My father has dementia and would probably have followed their instructions.”
Nuisance calls can be reported via the online tool on the ICO website, which also details the rules organisations must follow when carrying out direct marketing.
The ICO took over responsibility for overseeing the TPS from Ofcom in December 2016. The TPS is a free service for mobile and landline phone users that allows them to opt out of receiving cold calls.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said at the time:
“Transfer of the TPS to us will mean complaints to it about rogue cold callers will be passed even more efficiently to our enforcement officers. That will give us more information about the culprits and help in our bid to come down hard on the law breakers and stop nuisance calls.”
- The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
- The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.
There are specific rules on:
marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
cookies (and similar technologies);
keeping communications services secure; and
customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.
We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.
- The rules on electronic mail marketing (which includes text messages) are in regulation 22 of PECR. In short, you must not send electronic mail marketing to individuals, unless:
they have specifically consented to electronic mail from you; or
they are an existing customer who bought (or negotiated to buy) a similar product or service from you in the past, and you gave them a simple way to opt out both when you first collected their details and in every message you have sent.
You must not disguise or conceal your identity, and you must provide a valid contact address so they can opt out or unsubscribe.
- Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
- Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.