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Online petition to sting spam callers £50 a time gets underway – UPDATED

An e-petition to see companies who bombard UK citizens with spam calls liable for £50 civil court claims has been launched. 

Designed to amend the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, which gives people the right to sue for damages, the petition would see victims of junk calls able to apply for a £50 county court claim to be sent to the company who initiated the call. 

Online petition to sting spam callers £50 a time gets underway
Delicious Spam: Ruining phone calls for Britons since the year Forever A.D.

The problem with the legislation in its current form is that for one or two calls, it’s simply not worth suing. The e-petition has been set up by Adrian Kennard, director of AAISP who said in a blog post

“What is the damage for one junk call or even a couple from the same caller? Bugger all. So it is (a) not worth sending a bill or suing, and (b) likely to be hard to justify any damages you do sue for if it goes to court. What I think would be effective is if thousands of victims of junk callers were able to do something worthwhile against the junk callers – death by a thousand cuts.” 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK body responsible for dealing with spam calls and has the power to issue hefty fines. Earlier this year there was a noted spike in complaints to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which has been attributed to the activities of PPI companies. 

While the ICO can hand out fines of up to £500,000 for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, giving citizens the ability to immediately fire off a £50 claim would give some companies pause for thought before spamming thousands of customers. 

Kennard argues in the petition that “the callers will have to settle without court as they know they would lose, so no burden on the courts.” As there would be no dispute about damages if it’s fixed at £50 a time, it would be a case of administrative justice, in that there’s no actual case trial situation. 

The petition was launched last Friday (April 12) and will be up for a year. If an e-petition receives 100,000 signatures it will be considered for discussion in the House of Commons. You can sign the petition here

Update: We’ve just heard back from John Mitchison, Head of the Telephone Preference Service, who had this to say:

“The action suggested in the ‘Tackling Junk calls e-petition’ doesn’t seem the most practical way of punishing a company for making nuisance calls not only because it might encourage them to withhold their identity but also because it’ll be susceptible to abuse from people making multiple or spurious claims.”

In theory, if there was a non-judicial process you’d be able to ask your phone provider for details after receiving a junk call and they’d have to provide Customer Line Identification (CLI) details. Ofcom has in fact been encouraging BT to make this kind of information more available to customers as a way of combatting spam and silent calls.

Mitchison also added that the TPS is already pretty active in cracking down on spam calls: “The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) has been urging the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for enforcement action against companies operating outside the law for the last 18 months. Last month the ICO took action against a company that’s been breaching TPS legislation and as a result we are more optimistic that they will continue to make an effort to reduce the number of nuisance calls by focussing on stronger enforcement action.”

That said, this kind of action takes time, hence the petition. No doubt customers would love to be empowered with a system which lets them take direct action but then again, there would need to be safeguards in place to make sure this wasn’t abused. 

At the time of writing, the ‘Tackling Junk Calls’ e-petition had received over 150 signatures. 

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