A BOURNEMOUTH company has been issued with a £150,000 fine after making hundreds of thousands of unlawful nuisance marketing calls.
An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found House Guard UK Limited, which provides masonry protection solutions, made 699,966 nuisance calls between May and December 2018.
More than half – 371,958 – were made to numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). It is against the law to make marketing calls to numbers that have been registered with the TPS for more than 28 days, unless people have provided consent.
The ICO said 91 complaints had been made by individual TPS subscribers about unsolicited direct markings calls made by House Guard.
One person who received a call from House Guard, complained: ”I was busy doing my work and expecting a call from a client when the nuisance call was a rude and annoying interruption.
“When I mentioned I would report her, she told me to go ahead.”
House Guard, of Westover Road, Bournemouth, was issued with a monetary penalty notice under the Data Protection Act 1998 for a “serious contravention” of regulation 21 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which applies to the making of unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes.
The notice said: “The number of calls made to TPS registered individuals accounts for 55 per cent of the total call volume, this shows a disregard for the legislation surrounding the making of marketing calls.
“House Guard purchased data, without knowing how or where it was opted in, did not conduct due diligence on the data and did not screen it against the TPS.”
It added: “Further, the Commissioner’s investigation revealed that the company’s largest data supplier went into liquidation approximately eighteen months prior to its data purchases.
“Had House Guard conducted even the most basic due diligence on this supplier they would have this and alerted them to the fact that the data may not be as described.
“House Guard is unable to provide sufficient evidence that it had undertaken appropriate due diligence in this case.”
The TPS is a free service for mobile and landline phone users that allows people to opt out of receiving cold calls.
The ICO became responsible for overseeing the TPS in December 2016. To comply with the law, companies carrying out electronic marketing should subscribe to the TPS to receive the register of subscribers to screen against their own call lists.
People who believe they have been the victim of nuisance texts, calls or emails, should report it to the ICO online or by calling 0303 123 1113.
Andy Curry, ICO’s head of investigations, said: “If you sign up to the TPS, you should not expect to get nuisance calls. It’s as simple as that.
“Companies that have no respect for their customers’ wishes and choose to flout the law, can expect to face consequences – for their reputation and to their bottom line.”
He added: “By complaining via the TPS and the ICO, the public help us hold these companies to account.
“We encourage people to sign up to the free TPS service and report any unwanted calls they receive to the ICO.”
Company to appeal fine
In a statement, House Guard UK Ltd said: “Firstly, House Guard UK Ltd have apologised to everyone who has been affected by this contravention and would like to extend our apologies again.
“We do take data protection seriously and we are preparing to start the process of appeal for this fine.
“To explain; this was all due to an admitted fault of purchasing data from a 3rd party fraudster who assured that it was all compliant and ready to be marketed to.
“Sadly, we fell victim to this and we have explained the matter to the ICO and the ICO agrees that the breach was not deliberate in their enforcement notice: ‘The Commissioner considers that in this case House Guard did not deliberately contravene regulation 21 of PECR’. Non-deliberate mistakes shouldn’t warrant a business-ending fine.
“We have informed the ICO that it will destroy the business financially, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.
“The ICO are breaching their own Covid-19 Regulatory Action Policy set out to take the current financial economy into consideration, they state: ‘As set out in the Regulatory Action Policy, before issuing fines we consider the economic impact and affordability. In current circumstances, this is likely to continue to mean the level of fines will be reduced’.
“The ICO have chosen to not reduce the preliminary fine imposed by a single penny, in fact the preliminary notice said £120,000 was proposed and now the ICO have increased this by £30,000 to £150,000. Frustrating, as the issuing of these fines to smaller firms seems in contradiction with the large reductions offered to those with the clout to defend themselves such as British Airways and Marriott Hotels. They had their breach fines reduced from £163m down to £18.4m and £99m to £14.4m, 88.7 per cent and 88.5 per cent reductions.
“There is currently huge ‘inside pressure’ on whether the ICO is fit for purpose and they seem to be responding to this by handing out huge unpayable fines to justify their funding. Ironically as reported by the BBC that they have staff spending over £6,200 on company credit cards for chocolate at Christmas.”