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 Article added: 11/10/2013

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has urged MPs to change the law if they want to see the number of cold calls cut.

Simon Entwisle, the ICO’s Director of Operations, asked the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to make it easier for the ICO to issue more fines to companies behind the calls.

The law currently requires the ICO to prove that calls or texts are causing substantial damage or distress before issuing a penalty and this is proving challenging for the ICO as it finds proving substantial damage or distress difficult.

As a result, the ICO has found itself limited to targeting only those companies responsible for large numbers of calls. However, the ICO’S statistics suggest that the problem of nuisance calls is caused by a large number of companies making much lower numbers of annoying calls.

The ICO has asked the government to reduce the level of harm it needs to prove, so an investigation would simply have to prove annoyance or nuisance before acting. This, however, could be a path fraught with misinterpretation, mistaken identify and injustice.

Simon Entwisle Simon EntwisleDirector of Operations at the ICO

Simon Entwisle said

“The simple fact is that the law only allows the ICO to take action against the worst offenders. 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 2013 after making cold calls. Eighty two per cent of the companies (805) 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 where a company was named.

So be warned, it seems from all of this that the ICO could be looking to fine companies with as few as 5 complaints in a month.

Simon Entwisle added “Regulatory enforcement isn’t and should never be the only solution to the problem. There is 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.

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