The Information Commissioners Office has fired a warning shot over rogue firms which make unlawful marketing calls to businesses after issuing a double fine of £180,000 for abuse of the Corporate TPS – one of the first times a serious penalty has been imposed in the scheme’s near 20-year history.
Launched in 2004, the CTPS falls under the Privacy & Electronic Marketing Regulations (PECR) and requires firms making unsolicited outbound sales and marketing calls to check and suppress numbers that appear on the register.
The DMA runs the service on licence from the ICO, although ironically the trade body lobbied against its introduction, arguing that it was unenforceable and yet another administrative burden on the industry.
In 2010, the DMA called for a review of the system urging regulators and policy makers in Whitehall to back its call for a review of the CTPS. However, this fell on deaf ears.
Exact figures on the number of complaints the service generates seem to be a closely guarded secret, but according to one estimate it can receive up to 300 a month. However, the vast majority are unfounded and, even for the ones which are genuine, it has been hard to prove a deliberate breach of PECR.
The only other reported enforcement was in January 2022 against Energy Suite of Burnley. The business was fined a miniscule £2,000 for making 1,202 calls to consumer numbers registered with the TPS, and 44 calls to firms registered to the Corporate TPS.
However, a new ICO’s investigation has found that two companies – Ice Telecommunications of Crewe and UK Direct Business Solutions of Sunderland – both made repeated and persistent calls to businesses, with some described as rude and argumentative.
Ice made 72,682 unsolicited marketing calls to businesses registered with the CTPS or TPS between September 13 2021 and January 31 2022.
The ICO received 30 complaints about Ice, and the TPS advised it had written to the company on 19 occasions outlining complaint details, without response. The ICO’s investigation found that Ice was not able to provide copies of contracts with third party suppliers of marketing lists showing CTPS and TPS numbers suppressed; and continued to make illegal calls while under investigation.
The regulator fined Ice £80,000 and issued an enforcement notice ordering the company to stop making calls to CTPS and TPS registered numbers.
Meanwhile, UK Direct Business Solutions made 410,369 unsolicited marketing calls to businesses registered with the CTPS or TPS between March 1 2020 and October 31 2021.
The ICO received 96 complaints, and the TPS advised it had written to the company on 17 occasions outlining complaint details. During the ICO’s investigation the firm was unable to provide evidence that it had screened details it sourced from the Internet against the TPS register or any reference to electronic marketing laws or the TPS / CTPS register in its training materials. The ICO has fined UK Direct Business Solutions £100,000.
Meanwhile, the regulator is also launching of a suite of video resources to help small business and sole traders ensure their marketing is compliant with legislation.
ICO head of investigations Andy Curry said: “We are here to protect UK businesses, as well as the public, from unwanted marketing communications. It’s not acceptable that people in their place of work were made to feel uncomfortable all because they simply answered their phone.
“The fact that a number is in the public domain does not give free rein to marketers to make calls to businesses. The law is clear. Before any marketing calls are made, numbers must be screened against the do not call register.
“These fines are another clear message to companies flouting the law – we will take action to ensure the public and UK businesses are protected, and legitimate businesses complying with the law do not lose out.”
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