Kitchen design company fined £90,000 for unsolicited marketing calls

As someone who received a number of cold calls from fitted kitchen company DM Design, I’m pleased to see that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken action against the company for a breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

The fine is the first monetary penalty to be issued by the ICO in relation to live marketing calls. The ICO’s power to issue monetary penalty under the PECR came into effect in 2012, but to date the power has been little used. The first fine to be issued under the PECR, in November last year, was however fairly high – a £440,000 fine issued to Tetrus Communications after it sent millions of spam text messages to promote compensation claims for personal injury and payment protection misselling.

Both fines serve as a timely reminder to organisations involved in telemarketing – whether by telephone, email, or SMS – to ensure that their processes comply with the law.

The law on unsolicited telemarketing
Under the PECR, organisations must not make unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes where:

  • the subscriber (recipient of the call) has previously notified the caller that it does not wish to receive such calls: or
  • the telephone number in question is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

To enable organisations to check whether a number is registered with the TPS, organisations can pay a fee to the TPS to receive a regular report of numbers that have opted out of receiving direct marketing. In practice, this means that any organisation wishing to make unsolicited marketing calls is required to subscribe to the TPS’s service and regularly check their calling lists against the list of numbers registered with the TPS.

The PECR also sets out rules applying to marketing by text (SMS) and email. In summary, an organisation cannot send unsolicited direct marketing emails or text messages (or faxes) to consumers unless:

  • that individual has either provided their details to the organisation as part of a previous transaction (and the marketing is for similar products and services from that organisation); and
  • the individual was given the opportunity to opt out of receiving marketing when the information was collected, and any permitted marketing gives the individual an easy way to opt out of future marketing.

So called “silent calls” (where an automated system dials numbers but when the recipient answers there is no one on the other end) are dealt with by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom. Ofcom now has powers to fine organisations making silent calls up to £2m.

What did DM Design do wrong?
In this case, it appears that DM Design consistently failed to check whether the people it was phoning had opted out of receiving marketing calls, and (in at least one case) refused to remove the individual’s details from their system when asked to do so.

Over an 18 month period, the TPS received nearly 2000 complaints in relation to unsolicited marketing calls from DM Design. According to the TPS’s records, 12 months into the complaint period, DM Design did pay for one month’s subscription to the TPS mailing list and downloaded it once, but did not download the list at any other time during the period of the complaints.

Reporting silent calls and spam telemarketing
If you receive silent calls or unwanted telemarketing, and are registered with the TPS), then you should report the call, email or SMS to the ICO or Ofcom (see links below). Having done this with unsolicited communications from a number of organisations (including DM Design), I'm pleased to see that the ICO is finally taking enforcement action.

Of course, in order for the ICO to investigate, they will need details about the party that sent the message. I usually find that if you connect through to the call centre, then the operative will usually me more than happy to tell you who they work for and where they are calling from before realising why you are asking!

You can access the ICO's unwanted text and calls reporting tool by following this link.

You can report silent calls to Ofcom.

Martin Sloan

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