New rules make it easier for Information Commissioner to impose penalties


Companies that bombard members of the public with nuisance calls and spam texts face a bigger risk of fines following the introduction of new rules.

Under changes to the law, which came into force yesterday, it will be easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to issue fines to companies that break the law.

Previously, the ICO has had to prove that a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ making nuisance calls or sending spam text messages.

But from this week, the ICO will merely have to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the law under the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations.

The law allows companies to make marketing phone calls without prior permission, but they must first check whether individuals have opted out of marketing calls.

Companies need permission before they can send marketing text messages, and should always give details of how the recipient can opt out of any future messages.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham welcomed the law changes.

He said: “We’ve been pushing for this change for two years, and we’re sure it will make a difference. The change will help us to make more fines stick, and more fines should prove a real deterrent to the people making these calls.

“Previously, we’ve had to prove a company had caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by making their nuisance calls. That’s not easy for us to do, no matter how many people have had their privacy disturbed by someone offering to sell them solar panels or promising compensation ‘for that accident you had.

“Today’s change in the law will mean we just have to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the regulations.”

But he warned that the ICO would not be able to immediately hand out fines under the new rules.

“We can only fine companies that we can prove committed serious breaches of the law after the rules changed - so we can’t fine companies for something they did last week.

“We’ll be collecting evidence for investigations under the new rules from today. That means we need people to report calls and texts to us. We can then start investigating cases, and ultimately issuing penalties.”

The ICO received 175,330 reports of nuisance calls and texts from members of the public in 2014, which helped to trigger £360,000 worth of fines.

In the most recent fine, issued last week, personal injuries claim company Direct Assist Ltd was fined £80,000 for making nuisance calls, including reportedly calling one household 470 times.