Two bosses of a Stockton-on-Tees solar panel company, who caused their business to make almost 75,000 calls to people registered on the Telephone Preference Service, have both been banned from holding a directorship for six years.
Solartech North East was set up in July 2010 by Christopher Snaith, with co-director Jeffrey Hall joining the business in February 2012. As the name suggests, the firm operated as a renewable energy company, selling and installing solar panels to the domestic market in the UK.
Initially the company was successful, but there were concerns about its marketing as far back as 2014, when a number of complaints were identified about the firm in a monthly TPS report.
After being contacted by the ICO, Solartech blamed a third-party supplier but claimed it had rectified the problem and had also purchased a TPS licence to prevent future issues. The business was then placed on the ICO “watch list” for three months, during which time there was a slight decrease in complaints.
However, due to legislative changes in 2016 – when the Government slashed incentives to install solar panels – installations plummeted, forcing Solartech to diversify into installing boilers and other home improvement services.
And by March 2016, Solartech was back on the “ICO naughty step” following a raft of new complaints, leading to more time on the ICO watch list. Even so, the complaints continued and, in the end, the ICO lost patience.
Its investigation found that the firm had made a total of 74,902 calls to numbers registered with the TPS between May and June 2017.
It also found that Solartech did not screen its calls against the TPS list. And, despite having claimed to have purchased a TPS licence, the TPS could find no record of the firm even making enquiries about a licence, let alone taking one out. Solartech was also found to have purchased third-party data without undertaking any sufficient due diligence.
Concluding that the firm had breached the PECR legislation, the ICO whacked the business with a £90,000 fine in November 2018.
However, this was never paid and by February 2019 the directors had entered a Creditors Voluntary Liquidation, which triggered an Insolvency Service investigation into the company’s activities.
Effective from September 25 2019, the pair cannot, without the permission of the court, be involved in the formation, promotion or management of a company, directly or indirectly, for six years.
Insolvency Service deputy head of insolvent investigations Jane Knight said: “Making tens of thousands of unsolicited marketing calls to people who had specifically opted out from receiving them is unacceptable trading practice.
“The disqualifications mean Christopher Snaith and Jeffrey Hall will not be able to run a limited company for 6 years and will protect the public from unwanted sales calls.”
ICO enforcement group manager David Clancy added: “By partnering with the Insolvency Service in cases like this we are disrupting the ruthless operations of directors of companies plaguing the public with illegal nuisance calls.”
Snaith and Hall become the 18th and 19th members of the rogues gallery of directors who have been disqualified for a total of 124½ years for PECR offences; they include Shaun Harkin of Easyleads, six years; Keith Hancock of Lad Media, four years; and Aaron Stalberg, Lead Experts, six years. Reactiv Media call centre boss Tony Abbott was the first to be disqualified after being barred for 12 years in January 2018.
New laws came into force in December last year in an amendment to PECR, giving the ICO extra powers to make directors of rogue calls firms personally liable for fines of up to £500,000. These powers have yet to be used, however.
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