Swansea has been dubbed “the UK’s cold call capital” after two further companies in the city were fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Falcon and Pointer, which made millions of automated calls about PPI, and Direct Choice Home Improvements Ltd, which traumatised people with nuisance calls asking to speak to deceased relatives, were both based in Swansea.
The Welsh city has been home to several troublesome nuisance call firms in recent years, with the ICO taking action against six companies there since 2013.
This week Falcon and Pointer has been hit with a £175,000 fine after its PPI automated calls prompted more than 5,500 complaints to the ICO.
Anne Jones, Assistant Commissioner for Wales, said:
“Our action will send a clear message to callous cold callers operating in Swansea that they must follow the rules.
“We’d previously contacted both of these companies but they showed a blatant disregard for the law by continuing to make nuisance calls. Their action left many people feeling frustrated and harassed.”
“Both these firms tried to shift the blame by pointing the finger at a third party. This is not an acceptable defence. It is a company’s responsibility to ensure it does not make marketing calls that break the rules.”
The penalties come as the ICO publishes its updated Direct Marketing Guidance, which enables organisations to understand how to comply with the law and follow good practice.
Falcon and Pointer
Falcon and Pointer, which had its license* revoked by the Claims Management Regulator in January, told the ICO it had stopped making calls in June 2015 but an investigation discovered it made a further two million automated calls in the following two months.
The company said the calls were made by a third party firm that had informed them their list was screened for consent.
The following are examples of the complaints the ICO received about Falcon and Pointer:
“The most annoying and disgusting thing was the time of the call in the early hours of the morning. It woke everyone in the house including young children. It caused me a lot of anxiety as I do not receive calls at that time of day unless it is an emergency or bad news. A family member is currently seriously ill and I immediately thought the worse.”
“They called at half 3 in the morning! I have a sick grandfather dying of cancer, and it was assumed things had taken a turn for the worst. This is a TPS registered number. I hate getting these calls at the best of times. Now they're ringing at utterly ridiculous times.”
Direct Choice Home Improvements Ltd
Over the course of six months, 168 people who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) complained about Direct Choice Home Improvements cold calling them.
The company said a third party was to blame; telling the ICO it had been assured its list of people to call was screened against the TPS register.
These are examples of complaints the ICO received about Direct Choice Home Improvements Ltd:
“Frustration that I have received yet ANOTHER cold call - 3rd - in as many days. At least they didn't want to speak to my long dead parents this time.”
“Wanted to speak to my mother who has been dead for over SIX years. This is the latest in a number of calls from this firm asking to speak to one of my dead parents.”
Further examples of complaints are included in the penalty notices.
Swansea the “cold call capital”
Direct Choice Home Improvements and Falcon and Pointer are just two in a recent string of Swansea firms to come to the attention of the ICO.
Ms Jones said:
“It increasingly appears from our investigations that Swansea is the UK’s cold call capital. Companies in the city have been trying to cash in using ruthless business models based on illicit practices to make calls which are at best irksome and at worst distressing.”
Previous action by the regulator against companies in the area includes:
- Help Direct UK, based in Swansea, fined £200,000 in 2015 for sending out unsolicited text messages.
- In 2013, two Swansea companies which were part of Save Britain Money Ltd (BBC 3’s The Call Centre) were found to be responsible for 2,700 complaints relating to nuisance calls about PPI. Nationwide Energy Services was fined £125,000 and We Claim You Gain £100,000.
- All Claims Marketing Ltd, based in Swansea, was issued an enforcement notice by the ICO in 2014 ordering it to stop its bad practices around sending unsolicited electronic marketing mail.
Meanwhile Oxygen Ltd, based in nearby Port Talbot, was fined £120,000 in 2015 for making automated nuisance calls. The Claims Management Regulator (CMR) has also recently taken action against a Swansea company. It fined Rock Law Ltd £570,000 for “coercing clients” into making PPI claims.
*The Claims Management Regulator revoked Falcon and Pointer’s license in January 2016. This means the company can no longer offer regulated claims management services to new or existing clients.
Notes to editors
- 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 (FOIA) 2000, Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 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.
- 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; and
- not transferred to other countries without adequate protection.
- 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.
- There are specific rules on:
- 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/