Ofcom and ICO unveil action plan on nuisance calls

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom have devised a joint action plan to tackle “nuisance calls” that will include a review of the impact of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and lobbying for a change in the law to make it easier to punish offending companies.

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The ICO and Ofcom’s joint action plan on tackling nuisance calls and messages marks the first time the two organisations have worked together to clamp down on the issue. Previously the ICO focused on unsolicited marketing calls and text, while Ofcom was responsible for dealing with silent and abandoned calls.

By pooling their resources and lobbying powers the two organisations are looking to push for a change in the law that currently requires the organisations to prove calls or texts are causing “substantial harm or distress” before they can issue a penalty. They have asked the Government to reduce the level of harm required so they need to simply prove “annoyance” or “nuisance” before acting on complaints, a change it says could be a “game-changing improvement” to reducing unwanted calls.

The ICO and Ofcom are to undertake an assessment of the impact of the TPS free service enabling consumers to opt out of receiving unsolicited sales or marketing calls to evaluate how well it is working for consumers. The ICO revealed thousands of unsolicited calls have been made to consumers in the past quarter from overseas, which the TPS is currently powerless to prevent.

BT has already agreed to display full telephone numbers of inbound calls from abroad as routine, with the facility being available for all customers by autumn next year. A number of mobile operators have passed on intelligence to the ICO with regard to unsolicited marketing texts, which it says is likely to lead to the issue of a fine.

The ICO is also set to release new guidance on consumer consent for marketing in September, which will outline detailed advice on appropriate opt-in methods, the limitations of third-party consent, time limits, lead generation, marketing lists and the need for records of consent. The new guidance should keep responsible organisations within the law but also emphasise the enforcement action the ICO can take, it says.

Elsewhere, Ofcom is currently developing proposals to look at possible new ways – both technical and non-technical – of tackling the root causes of nuisance calls, which it will present to the Government in the autumn.

The joint action plan has been published just a day after the Department of Culture, Media and Sport revealed it is looking at removing “barriers to enforcement”, such as the masking of phone numbers. The DCMS is also reviewing whether the laws governing how companies obtain consent to call could tightened as well as the legitimacy of the lists of prospects used by call centres.

The ICO and Ofcom will publish a general update on the progress of its action plan in early 2014.

Mike Lordon, chief of operations for the Direct Marketing Association, says the trade body welcomes the ICO and Ofcom’s moves that will improve enforcement against rogue companies and lower the threshold necessary for taking action.

He adds: “The regulators already have the powers they need to deal with companies that flout the law; they will now coordinate their efforts better to protect consumers and the legitimate telemarketing and mobile marketing industries alike.”

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