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MPs get tough on nuisance calls

MPs are urging businesses to tackle the issue of unwanted marketing calls voluntarily to avoid further legislation. This warning comes as the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued a £90,000 penalty notice on one Glasgow firm, the first ever for this kind of breach. The ICO also reveals that complaints about unsolicited sales and marketing calls tripled in 2012.

MPs said the current system isn’t working. Speaking at the MPs’ debate on 28 February 2013, they said that spreading the responsibility for tackling cold calls across a number of regulators creates confusion for consumers, as they do not know where to turn for help. This lack of focus allows unscrupulous companies to avoid regulatory action.

MPs called for the creation of one point of contact for consumers, pointing out that while the regulators are unclear about where the jurisdiction lies for handling complaints about the various types of nuisance calls, it is unlikely that consumers will know what to do.

The ICO is working with other regulators, consumer organisations and industry representatives, including the DMA, to share information and develop plans to tackle the issue of unsolicited calls and text messages. This could include putting in place data-sharing agreements to allow details of complaints collected by organisations such as Which? and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to be passed to the ICO.

This should help the ICO to identify more of those companies making large numbers of rogue cold calls to consumers. The ICO has the power to issue fines of up to £500,000 and has been focusing its investigations on companies breaching Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) for some time. This means that any UK-based companies making such calls will soon face enforcement action and hefty fines. This includes calls made from overseas on behalf of a UK-based company.

The DMA has already taken significant steps to protect legitimate telemarketing and fight rogue companies who flout the rules. In 2011 the DMA set up the Unsolicited SMS and Voice Working Party. This group brings together representatives from across regulators, industry and consumer groups to share information and develop plans to tackle the problem of unwanted calls and text messages.

Members of the group include Ofcom, the ICO and key providers of telecoms services, as well as those representing consumer interests. Resulting data-sharing agreements are already helping regulators to identify and address problems in this sector.

On 8 January 2013, Ofcom launched a five-point action plan to tackle nuisance calling. Ofcom has commissioned research into the types of nuisance call commonly received by consumers and will be working closely with industry to track down the companies behind the calls. Ofcom will coordinate any action it takes with the other regulatory bodies in this sector, and has warned that it will continue to take enforcement action against companies that breach its rules.

MPs have also called on the telemarketing industry to develop a Code of Conduct. In fact, the DMA is already leading the way on this, as the DM Code of Practice requires DMA members commit to abide by the Code, which requires industry practitioners to adhere to best practice guidance as well as legal requirements.

The DMA is also about to launch a new version of its Best practice guide for contact centres and telemarketing - business to consumer. This is an invaluable guide for companies making calls, or engaging others to call on their behalf. Only available to members, it should set new standards for responsible behaviour in the industry.

Ofcom will present the results of its research into nuisance calls at the DMA Unsolicited Working Party meeting on Monday 6 May 2013, and we will report the findings in the May issue of the legal newsletter.

Jessica Tyrrell, Compliance Officer, DMA

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