TPS abuse appeal goes tits up as judge increases fine

phone1Companies which find themselves on the wrong side of the Information Commissioner’s Office should be careful what they wish for after one telemarketing firm has had an £80,000 fine increased on appeal at the First Tier Tribunal.

In January 2019, Liverpool-based Alistar Green Legal Services (AGLS) was fined for making unsolicited personal injury calls to 213 people who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service during four months in 2017.

But director Kabir Abbas Sharif decided to launch an appeal against the penalty, claiming it was unjust.

However, what Sharif had not reckoned on was the emergence of further evidence, as well as his previous record in liquidating AGLS’ predecessor, Lumen Corporation, to swerve an earlier ICO fine.

Rejecting ALGS’s appeal, the First-tier Tribunal in Wigan said there was “an almost total absence of the systems and controls necessary” to ensure the company was properly run and compliant with the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations.

The ruling stated: “During the period when AGLS was active in the telemarketing business it did not have a TPS licence, [and] on Sharif’s account its equipment which should have prevented it from calling TPS registered numbers was not functioning correctly.

“A key employee responsible for operations/dealing with complaints did not know what he was doing and, it is claimed, suppressed all information about complaints. Post to the company at its registered office was not collected despite the fact that it was its place of business where 30 staff worked.”

Judge Chris Hughes said telephone numbers were purchased from unregistered organisations and AGLS was unable to produce evidence that individuals had consented to receive calls.

“On the contrary, the complaints logged showed repeated calls to the same numbers despite the repeated protests of TPS subscribers which should have prevented a further call, but which did not, and also discourtesy and bullying by AGLS staff.”

The judge said the £80,000 fine was “a proportionate response, consistent with other financial penalties imposed in the light of the numbers of calls made and complaints received”. However, he added: “It is now clear that the total number of complaints relating to AGLS was higher than the ICO took into account when determining the amount of the monetary penalty.

“There is a clear pattern of wholesale disregard for the law. The tribunal is charged with reviewing all the evidence and may make a different determination with respect to the monetary penalty. In the circumstances, the tribunal is satisfied that a penalty of £90,000 should be substituted.”

The case is not unprecedented. In 2015, call centre chief Tony Abbott also had an ICO fine increased on appeal, from £50,000 to £75,000. However, it went from bad to worse for Abbott after an ensuing investigation by the Insolvency Service led to a 12 year ban on him being a company director.

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