New legislation to combat nuisance calls and texts will finally be revealed this month and should be in place before the general election – six months later than originally planned – as new evidence emerges that the problem is far worse than previously reported.
The draft version of a consultation is understood to contain two options. The preferred one will see a reduction in the threshold when a firm could be fined, so that substantial harm or substantial distress is replaced by a term such as “annoyance” or even “nuisance”.
The second idea is to remove the threshold entirely, which would mean that the Information Commissioner’s Office would have more freedom to interpret the regulations and therefore fine companies as it sees fit.
Industry body the DMA has been demanding changes to the laws ever since Tetrus Telecoms director Christopher Niebel overturned a £300,000 ICO spam text fine in the High Court. The ruling, which severely affected the watchdog’s powers, meant his co-director Gary McNeish had his £140,000 fine thrown out, too.
After the Government initially claimed the new laws would be in place by Christmas, the DMA and ICO were concerned that the Coaltion was dragging its feet because the consultation did not start before Parliament’s summer recess. However, if the consultation goes ahead this month, the laws should still be in place by June.
The move comes as the ICO has claimed that the problem is far worse than previously reported.
In the regulator’s most recent annual report – published in July – it said it had received 161,729 complaints under the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations.
But in an interview with The Independent, ICO deputy chief executive Simon Entwisle claims for every complaint his office receives, there are another 1,000 nuisance calls or texts. This means there are more than 1.6 billion rogue calls and texts each year.
Entwisle added: “This will make it much more straightforward for us to take action. That’s what these calls are – they are annoying, and it’s not going to be difficult for us to show they are annoying. At the moment, it takes a large amount of effort to prove substantial distress and this change will make it much more proportionate to the problems these calls and texts cause. I would hope this [will help to] close down those that are not reputable marketing firms.
“We want to make this unattractive as a business model – if some firms get closed down because they weren’t adhering to the rules, it is not something we would be worried about.”
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