On 18 June 2013 the Information Commissioner’s Office issued two fines totalling £225,000 to two businesses at the centre of the BBC Three programme “The Call Centre”. These include the first fine for nuisance calls relating to payment protection insurance.

The companies, Nationwide Energy Services and We Claim You Gain (both part of Save Britain Money Ltd), were found to be responsible for over 2,700 complaints to the Telephone Preference Service or the ICO between 26 May 2011 and the end of 2012.

The key point behind the imposition of such large fines was that neither company had carried out adequate checks to see whether the people they were calling had registered with the TPS, which maintains a register of people who have opted out of receiving marketing calls. Checking with the TPS before making unsolicited marketing calls is a legal requirement under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

These fines reflect the ICO’s tough stance on unwanted marketing calls and texts, which the ICO has identified as a particular concern of the public. The ICO set up an online survey in March 2012 for the public to use to send details of any unwanted marketing calls and texts. It has received over 200, 000 responses since then, suggesting that this is an area where changes in legislation are needed. However, the ICO has already issued penalties totalling over three-quarters of a million pounds to companies in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, and a further ten investigations are ongoing.

The ICO and other bodies such as Which? have welcomed discussions in the House of Commons surrounding ways to improve the law around unwanted marketing calls and texts. A Private Members’ Bill, the Communication (Unsolicited Telephone Calls and Texts) Bill, has been introduced in the House of Commons, attempting to address key shortcomings of the existing law, such as by introducing a clear expiry date on consumer consent to unsolicited marketing and giving greater powers to regulators. Which? and the ICO support these changes. While a Private Members’ Bill has only limited prospect of becoming law, its introduction highlights the consumer and legislative concern about intrusive marketing.

In light of these fines, marketers should take particular care to check both the TPS register and their own records to screen out people who have opted out of receiving marketing communications. They should also ensure that contractors acting on their behalf do likewise, as the ICO will hold companies responsible for breaches carried out by people acting on their behalf.