Pestered by Unsolicited Marketing Calls – Your Complaints Will Be Heard!

Unsolicited marketing calls are an often unwelcome feature of modern life. However, as one telephone sales company discovered to its cost, public complaints do not go unheard and those who abuse data protection rules can be brought to book.

The company, which ironically offered to supply devices that were designed to stop unwanted calls, estimated that it had made two million cold calls in two years. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had received 157 complaints about the company’s activities from members of the public who had notified the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) that they did not wish to receive unsolicited calls.

The company argued that the number of complaints was tiny when compared with the volume of calls it had made. It argued that it had obtained lists of names and telephone numbers it used from a reputable third party and that it had carried out stringent checks to ensure that those it contacted had consented to receiving its calls.

The ICO, however, noted that the company had no system in place to screen calls against the TPS register. There was evidence that the lists may have been obtained by the third party under the pretence of carrying out a ‘lifestyle survey’. There had been a lack of due diligence on the company’s part in failing to check that recipients of its calls had given their genuine consent. The ICO accepted that the company’s breaches of the rules were not deliberate, but imposed a financial penalty of £40,000.

In dismissing the company’s appeal against that decision, the First-tier Tribunal found that it had failed to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the rules and had thus created a clear risk of contravention. Even if the penalty pushed the company into insolvency, it was hard to see that that would cause any grave damage to the wider public interest.