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Cold callers face fines for being simply annoying or inconvenient

Cold-calling sales scum and their robot assistants could be fined just for being annoying instead of causing ‘substantial’ damage or distress to their victims.

The government’s latest moves to tackle nuisance calls will also make it easier for communications regulator Ofcom and other agencies to share information about rogue companies.

Consumer experts will also review the rules on how consumers agree to receive marketing calls in a bid to reduce the 120,310 complaints received by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) between April and November 2013.

Cold callers face fines for being simply annoying or inconvenient
Cold calls are thawing but there’s a long way to go

Spam and nuisance calls: How to avoid PPI and marketing callsCulture secretary Maria Miller said: “Nuisance calls must stop. At best they are an irritation and an unwanted intrusion, at worst they cause real distress and fear, particularly to the elderly or housebound.

“The rules are clear – people have the right to choose not to receive unsolicited marketing calls. We will work to ensure their choice is respected.”

With data collection providing an increased incentive for nuisance calls, the government is also considering whether companies can be fined up to 20 per cent of their turnover for using data gathered by unsolicited calls and texts.

The first step in the new action plan will be new powers for Ofcom to share information with the ICO and the Insolvency Service about rogue cold-calling companies, so it’s harder for them to declare bankruptcy and restart under a new name to escape fines.

There will also be a consultation on reducing the severity of cold calls from ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ before the ICO can intervene, to ‘nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’ – but this will require MPs to pass a change in the law.

The Which? task force will review the level of consent marketing companies have to obtain before they can make calls, texts or emails, so it’s harder to give them permission by accident and they have to keep clear records for everyone. 

Ofcom’s new powers will come in on October 1, but new legislation may have to go on a fast track to make it through Parliament before the British general election in May 2015.

Last year saw the maximum fines for cold calling raised to £500,000 for the ICO and £2m if Ofcom gets involved, with fines totalling £2.54m handed down since January 2012.

Companies which persistent break the cold-calling rules are named and shamed on the ICO website, and complaints have fallen by 84 per cent since March 2013.

Sky is currently on the ICO’s watch-list for complaints, while TalkTalk was fined £750,000 last year for phone spam.

Image: Jon Curnow/Flickr

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