The Information Commissioner has welcomed today’s change to the law around nuisance calls and texts, which he says “will make a difference”.

The law change makes it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to issue fines to companies that break the law.

Previously, the ICO has had to prove that a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ making nuisance calls or sending spam text messages. But from today, the ICO will just have to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the law (Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations).

Christopher Graham said:

“We’ve been pushing for this change for two years, and we’re sure it will make a difference. The change will help us to make more fines stick, and more fines should prove a real deterrent to the people making these calls.

“Previously, we’ve had to prove a company had caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by making their nuisance calls. That’s not easy for us to do, no matter how many people have had their privacy disturbed by someone offering to sell them solar panels or promising compensation ‘for that accident you had’.

“Today’s change in the law will mean we just have to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the regulations.”

The law allows companies to make marketing phone calls without prior permission, but they must first check the Telephone Preference Service, which lists individuals who have opted out of marketing calls.

Companies need permission before they can send marketing text messages, and should always give details of how the recipient can opt out of any future messages.

The law change means the Information Commissioner’s Office can now fine companies that commit serious breaches.

But Christopher Graham warned that won’t mean his office handing out penalties immediately:

“We can only fine companies that we can prove committed serious breaches of the law after the rules changed - so we can’t fine companies for something they did last week.

“We’ll be collecting evidence for investigations under the new rules from today. That means we need people to report calls and texts to us. We can then start investigating cases, and ultimately issuing penalties.”

The ICO received 175,330 reports of nuisance calls and texts from concerned people in 2014. Despite the high barrier, the ICO has been able to issue £360,000 of civil monetary penalties for nuisance calls and texts in the past year (Apr 14 – Mar 15). In the most recent fine, issued last week, a personal injuries claim company was fined £80,000 for making nuisance calls, including reportedly calling one household 470 times.

 

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 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.
  3. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Read more in the ICO blog and e-newsletter. Our Press Office page provides more information for journalists.
  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. 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.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).