The data regulator’s clampdown on rogue telemarketing firms would appear to make the 12 Labours of Hercules look like a stroll in the park, after Information Commissioner Christopher Graham admitted he only has a “very small” enforcement team working on the problem.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Graham could not actually give details of how many people are in the team, simply saying: “I have a small team but they are very effective.”
His comments follow calls by both the ICO and Which? for more people to complain so both the regulators – Ofcom and the ICO itself – can tackle the issue more effectively. The Government’s own figures suggest there are over 1 billion nuisance calls a year.
According to Which? figures, only 2% of the people who get a so-called nuisance call actually go on to complain. In the past six months, only 60,000 people have complained to one of the regulators, a figure that Which? branded “the tip of the iceberg”.
In response to accusations that the Telephone Preference Service is useless in blocking the calls, Graham said: “[The TPS] does work because most of the calls are blocked. When it doesn’t work you call in the regulator and we’ve imposed nearly £1m worth of fines since the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations came in. [The enforcement team] are making progress.
“We need people to complain (we had over 180,000 complaints last year) and that helps us to put together a picture of who is making these unwanted calls and where they are coming from. There is a lot we can do.”
However, Graham came unstuck after citing the case of Reactiv Media, the Yorkshire telemarketing firm which was booted out of the DMA and then had its £50,000 fine from the ICO increased to £75,000 after losing its appeal.
When asked whether they were still calling people registered on the TPS, he was forced to admit: “I don’t know. But my enforcement team are all over it.”
One industry source said: “The figure of 1 billion nuisance calls is a nonsense – many of the calls are made by companies with which people have an existing relationship, even through a third party. They are permitted by law to contact you. The only way you can stop these calls is to tell the company directly.
“But if the ICO wants more complaints, they must make it easier to do so. By its own admission, only 1% of the population have heard of the regulator for starters. And at the moment you have to fill out a long form on the ICO website, including time of day of the call, the number (which is impossible as most are number withheld), your name and address – how many older and vulnerable people will do that?”
Late last week, former DLG and EHS Brann chief Jeremy Whitaker threw down the gauntlet to every UK company using marketing data, challenging them to prove that the information they hold is compliant with existing, as well as forthcoming, legislation.
His company, Verso Group, claims to uniquely supply 100% TPS-free data, insisting the business does not exploit regulatory grey areas like many of its rivals.
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