Nuisance caller firms face fines up to £17.5MILLION and ICO will get new powers to punish unanswered calls in ‘much-needed clampdown’ to protect the vulnerable
- ICO got 130,000 complaints last year about unwanted calls and messages
- £2.8 million in fines was issued and £400,000 for preying on vulnerable elderly
- Maximum fine for nuisance calls is to be raised from £500,000 to £17.5 million
- 1.5 billion nuisance calls last year, equivalent to around 9,000 calls a minute
Rogue firms plaguing people with nuisance calls will face massive fines under new plans.
The Data Reform Bill to be published today will pave the way for a crackdown on the growing scourge of unwanted marketing calls and scams by phone, text or email.
The maximum fine for firms that hound people with nuisance calls is to be raised from £500,000 to £17.5 million or 4 per cent of global turnover, whichever is largest.
And the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be given enhanced enforcement powers.
At present the ICO can penalise firms only for calls that are answered. Under the new plans the watchdog will also be able to take action over high volumes of unanswered calls, including raising the level of fines.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries described the measures as a ‘much-needed clampdown to protect consumers, the elderly and the vulnerable from cold calling’.
Data minister Julia Lopez, who will unveil the proposed legislation, said: ‘We need tough punishments to deter the worst abuses, including the predatory marketing practices of rogue firms that make life a misery for millions.’
Currently the ICO can only penalise for calls that are answered but the new plans will also be able to take action over high volumes of unanswered nuisance calls
Communications regulator Ofcom warned last year that the pandemic had led to a huge rise in unwanted calls as millions of people had to stay at home.
A study by software firm Hiya estimated there were more than 1.5 billion nuisance calls last year as rogue operators used cheap automated technology to push out more spam – equivalent to around 9,000 calls a minute.
Adults in Britain receive an average of seven unwanted calls or messages per month.
More than half of the calls are likely to involve some form of fraud, Hiya said.
The ICO received 130,000 complaints last year about unwanted calls and messages – but only £2.8 million in fines was issued.
Last month the watchdog fined five firms a total of more than £400,000 for preying on vulnerable elderly people. The companies involved were trying to sell insurance and maintenance contracts for white goods and televisions.
The firms, which were suspected of working together, made a total of more than 750,000 unwanted calls to people who had registered with the Telephone Preference Service to say they did not want to receive cold calls.
Information commissioner John Edwards said: ‘These are unlawful predatory marketing calls that were targeted at some of the most vulnerable members of our society and driven purely by financial gain. It is clear from the complaints we received that people felt frightened and distressed by the aggressive tactics of these companies, sometimes giving their financial details just so they could hang up the phone.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries described the measures as a ‘much-needed clampdown to protect consumers, the elderly and the vulnerable from cold calling’
‘This is unacceptable and clearly exploitative. It is only right we take tough and prompt action to punish those companies responsible using our full powers.’
Ministers hope the 35-fold increase in maximum penalties will deter scammers who feel they are immune from serious action.
The decision to extend the powers of the ICO to cover unanswered calls reflects concerns that vulnerable people can be terrorised in their own homes.
A Government source said: ‘We want to end the situation where some people are afraid to answer the phone because they are afraid it will be another scam.’
The new law will involve changes to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, meaning they will cover text messages and emails, as well as calls to mobiles and landlines.