Between 2 October and 12 December 2014, the Commissioner’s office received 242 complaints via the online reporting tool. The gist of the complaints was that a number of automated marketing calls had been received by subscribers in relation to free solar panels from Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELM).
The company’s compliance manager admitted that the majority of the calls were sent or instigated to carry out a marketing campaign between October and December 2014. They confirmed that they would not be running a similar campaign.
The company stated that each customer record was purchased from reputable suppliers and screened against the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) list before it was added to their database. The company explained that they also used a sophisticated filtering system to “suppress” and “block” telephone numbers from being dialled if requested by subscribers. In the circumstances, the company couldn’t explain the volume of complaints and rejected the idea that a call could be received by a subscriber on more than one occasion.
The company also admitted that they sent in excess of 6 million automated calls during the marketing campaign, although the calls were only connected to approximately 59,500 ‘subscribers’ (1%) and at least 1,750,000 (29%) of the calls were made to invalid numbers.
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Unsolicited telephone calls made by automated calling systems are prohibited by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations.
The Commissioner satisfied himself that the company was responsible for this contravention and has decided that the appropriate amount of the penalty is £200,000. “The bottom line is companies trying to sell a product have got to stick to the rules. Nuisance phone calls are a modern pest,” said the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham.
“People expect the Information Commissioner and other agencies to close this down and we’re now closing down on these phone pests.”
In a statement from lawyer the company responded: “Helms had significant difficulty in fully co-operating with the ICO, owing to the failure of the third party company to give any information to verify and explain the extent of the calls made.” It vowed to appeal, as well as taking action against the other company.
In the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner’s Office is responsible for regulating compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is the responsibility of the Scottish Information Commissioner.