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News : Britons Firms for Unsolicited Messages
London, UK, Feb 24, 2015 -- Companies behind nuisance calls and texts will be fined up to £500,000 under a crackdown on firms which plague millions of families.
Ministers will announce tomorrow that they will change the law to making it much easier to levy tough penalties on those responsible for the menace, MailOnline has learned.
The communications watchdog will no longer have to prove messages are causing a ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ before taking action against those responsible.
Last year there were more than 175,000 complaints made to the Information Commissioner’s Office about nuisance calls and texts.
Four in five people are regularly cold-called at home, according to consumer group Which?, while a third of people feel intimidated by the messages.
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid vowed to act after seeing evidence that so many people were suffering cold calls that six in ten people said they no longer want to answer their own phone.
A consultation was launched in October last year on lowering the threshold for legal action.
It is understood that ministers will announce tomorrow that they will go ahead with the change, to make it easier to take action against firms behind nuisance calls.
Legislation is expected to be amended shortly with the change coming into effect before the general election.
A government source told MailOnline said: ‘Companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, but have escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm.
‘So we’re making it easier for companies to face the consequences of ignoring the law and subjecting us to calls or texts we have said we don’t want.’
The ICO had levied a fine against the co-owner of a marketing company, Tetrus Telecoms, which sent hundreds of thousands of texts about PPI and accident claims.
But a tribunal upheld Christopher Niebel’s appeal that the messages did not meet the legal test to prove ‘substantial harm or distress’ had been caused.
Earlier this month Information Commissioner Christopher Graham demanded more powers to rein in firms that bombard pensioners and Alzheimer’s sufferers with nuisance text messages and cold calls.
He urged ministers to change the law to make it easier to clamp down on unwanted calls and spam texts by companies promising to write off debts, pursue compensation and sell anything from mobile phones to double glazing.
Mr Graham said: ‘The current rules around marketing calls are a licence for spammers and scammers.
‘The elderly and vulnerable are particularly at risk, and this can only add to the worries of those who care for them. The Government is letting people down.
‘Time and time again the Government talks about changing the law and clamping down on this problem, but so far it’s just that – talk. We seem to be going round in circles. The Government need to lay the order, change the law and bring in a reform that would make a real difference.’
Ministers insist they are determined to tackle the problem of nuisance calls. Rules on data sharing were changed last year to make it easier for Ofcom to give information to the ICO on companies breaking the law.
The ICO has powers to take action against companies who break the existing rules on direct marketing.
Since January 2012, the watchdog has taken enforcement action against nine companies for nuisance calls and text messages, hitting them with fines.
The ICO states: 'We meet with companies to discuss their compliance with the law and monitor their progress. And we now have the power to fine those who break the law.'
Separately, Ofcom has powers to deal with abandoned and silent calls by taking action against offenders that persistently misuse a network or service resulting in annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.
To date Ofcom has fined seven companies totalling £1,618,000 for abandoned and silent calls.
Mr Javid said in October: ‘Companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, but have escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm,’ the Culture Secretary said.
‘Being called day after day may not be "substantially distressing", but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
‘I want to make it easier for companies to face the consequences of ignoring the law and subjecting us to calls or texts we have said we don’t want.’
Consumer group Which? welcomed the announcement today. Executive director Richard Lloyd, who chaired the Nuisance Calls Task Force, said: 'These calls are an everyday menace blighting the lives of millions so we want the regulator to send a clear message by using their new powers to full effect without delay.
'It’s also good news that the Government has listened to our call and is looking into how senior executives can be held to account if their company makes nuisance calls.'
Two companies that appeared in the BBC TV series The Call Centre, starring eccentric boss Neville Wilshire, were fined for nuisance payment protection insurance calls in 2013.
Separately, communications regulator Ofcom has the power to deal with silent calls by taking action against firms that persistently misuse a network or service resulting in ‘annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’. To date, it has fined seven companies a combined £1,618,000.
However, watchdogs have complained the law as it stands makes prosecutions and fines difficult.
The ICO levied a fine of £300,000 against one firm but the decision was reversed on appeal as no substantial harm or distress had been shown. The watchdog warned the ruling had left it almost powerless to deter such companies even if they churn out industrial quantities of messages.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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