The noose is tightening on dodgy telemarketing firms after a local trading standards authority made a legal first by prosecuting a company for calling people registered on the Telephone Preference Service.
Dorset County Council Trading Standards Service slapped the £36,000 fine on home improvements company Apple Group Holdings for causing ‘persistent nuisance’ to elderly and vulnerable people.
This action has set a legal precedent, paving the way for companies operating nationally to be fined for TPS breaches in every country they operate. The UK TPS holds nearly 20 million private landline and mobile numbers but the Government estimates that there are more than a billion nuisance calls a year.
Head of the TPS John Mitchison said: “Companies breaching TPS laws now face a far greater risk of being prosecuted compared to this time last year, with over 200 Local Authority Trading Standards Services in the UK.
“Businesses using telemarketing as a part of their marketing mix need to be cautious when conducting the right checks on the data they use or buy. Screening against the TPS is an essential part of data compliance and companies need to take all complaints seriously.”
The TPS is just one of the organisations which has been demanding tougher action from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the organisation responsible for enforcement, to prosecute rogue operators in breach of TPS legislation.
However, despite the ICO issuing some hefty penalties for nuisance calls, the regulator has been hamstrung by the need to prove “significant damage or distress” was caused.
The Government has already pledged to lower the threshold to make fines easier to implement but Dorset Trading Standards has used consumer protection legislation from the Unfair Trading Regulations, 2008, and is the first organisation to issue a fine – albeit just a fraction of the ICO’s maximum £500,000 monetary penalty – other than the ICO.
DMA executive director Chris Combemale said that businesses must plan their telemarketing around the expectations of consumers. He added: “No company should ever want to be known for making nuisance calls. Doing so will damage their reputation, lose them customers and attract the attention of a growing number of regulators with the powers to issue steep financial penalties.”
Last week, mobile phone giants EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone added their weight to the fight against nuisance texts and calls by linking with the ICO to launch a spam reporting service through their industry body, GSMA.
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