The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Reliance Advisory Limited (RAL) £250,000 for breaking the law banning unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes concerning claims management services. The ICO revealed that over a six-month period from the start of 2019, Bury-based RAL made over 15 million calls relating to claims management services, including mis-sold PPI.
All of the 1.1 million calls which connected were made to individuals who had not consented to receive them, which contravenes regulation 21A of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. The ICO received 85 complaints from members of the public which highlighted the persistent nature of the calls and, in some cases, the rude nature of the callers.
Statements from the public emphasised the distress the contact caused them, with one individual stating they received three or four calls a day from the company when they had recently been bereaved, and, when they asked the caller to stop, they continued making even more calls.
“They call when my baby is asleep and wake her up,” said another. “They disrupt my day. My husband is in the military and can rarely call me. When they call, I think it’s him and then I’m disappointed it’s them again.”
Another individual said: “Asking about PPI she said has been given information about my PPI (not true). I told her she shouldn’t be calling and she became very rude. I told her that I hadn’t given permission for PPI calls and it was illegal, she became rude and loud.” [sic]
Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO, noted that nuisance calls are a matter of great distress and annoyance for those affected and represent a significant concern to the public. The ICO, he said, will continue to find and take action against offenders.
“The law exists for a reason, and that is to protect people from this high degree of intrusion into their private lives,” he said. “Businesses must respect the law and the onus is on them to be aware of their responsibilities. Pleading ignorance of the rules, as was put forward in this case, will never be a valid argument. We encourage members of the public to report nuisance calls, texts and emails to us.”
During the investigation, RAL could not provide evidence of consent for the majority of its calls and, where evidence was produced for data it had purchased in the previous 30 days, the consent was found not to have been freely given, specific or informed. RAL argued that it was not aware of its responsibilities under the law.
Data drawn from a Freedom of Information request made by Quadient revealed that the ICO received over 129,000 complaints about nuisance calls and text in 2019, and that 3,792 of these complaints related to the insurance sector (including car, life and home). Andrew Stevens, principal, banking and financial services at Quadient noted that these figures are likely still only the tip of the iceberg as many more consumers will not have reported calls.
“Such a large volume of calls and texts cannot be blamed on just a few bad apples,” he said. “From damaging long-term relationships to risking an ICO fine, businesses will face the consequences if they can’t give consumers the information they want, when they want it, on the channel they request.”
He noted the huge obligation organisations have to act responsibly when customers are trapped at home due to the COVID-19 crisis and said customer communications teams need to put the groundwork in to figure out how and when consumers wish to be contacted.