Record fine won't stop nuisance calling firms

12 May 2017   By Samantha Smith

THE Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has handed out a record £400,000 fine for nuisance calling, after a PPI and accident claims firm made almost 100 million automated calls without prior consent.

nuisance calls

Keurboom Communications Ltd made the calls between October 2014 and March 2016, causing 1,036 people to lodge official complaints with ICO.

In addition to making the calls without consent, Keurboom also failed to cooperate with ICO's investigation, a factor which also prompted the public body to award their biggest ever fine.

However, as steep as the fine is, Keurboom have gone into voluntary liquidation, making it unlikely that the £400,000 will be paid in full.

In less than a year

This won't stop ICO from working with liquidators and insolvency firms in an attempt to retrieve the money, which equals the £400,000 penalty imposed on TalkTalk last year for the ISP's failure to prevent the notorious October 2015 cyberattack.

In the case of Keurboom, however, their transgression involves making precisely 99,535,654 automated (or recorded) cold calls, with the vast bulk of these - 91,497,411 - falling within a particularly intensive period of systematic harassment between April 6th 2015 and March 31st 2016.

What makes their transgression worse isn't simply that they were goading people into making spurious motoring accident claims, but that they failed to comply with requests to provide information to ICO on seven separate occasions.

It was for this reason that the company and their director - Gregory Rudd - were both prosecuted at Luton Magistrates Court in April 2016 and separately fined.

Not £500,000

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However, while the Government had proposed to make directors of nuisance calling firms personally liable for fines of up to £500,000, this proposal still hasn't been implemented, despite having been promised for "Spring 2017".

This means that the fine Gregory Rudd received at Luton Magistrates Court had nothing to do with the Government's "#NoNuisance" proposal from October, and was therefore equal to "£1,000, with costs of £435.95 and a victim surcharge of £100".

These calls have now stopped - as has Keurboom - but our work has not. We'll continue to track down companies that blight people's lives with nuisance calls, texts and emails
Steve Eckersley, ICO

And the question remains as to whether the Government's proposal will be realised in the next few months, given that a snap election has been called and efforts to bring new measures into force have been put on the back burner.

ICO have effectively stated that this bringing into force is more or less imminent, reporting that their "powers will be further strengthened when the government introduces a new law allowing it to fine the company directors behind nuisance call firms".

Yet they haven't said when exactly the law will be introduced, leaving the risk that companies will continue to flout the current laws, knowing only too well that they can simply liquidate one fined company and start another in its place.

A soft touch?

Indeed, without the new law, ICO seem something of a soft touch at the moment, with the increasing rate of nuisance calling being a manifestation of their ineffectiveness.

For instance, they report that they had their busiest ever year for unsolicited calls in 2016/17, "issuing 23 companies a total of £1.923 million for nuisance marketing".

Yet despite the increase in the number of fines they've been handing out, companies such as Keurboom continue to emerge, going so far as to ignore even requests for information with impunity.

That they continue to appear is largely the result of their ability to avoid having to actually pay fines, with an ICO blog from October revealing that, of 27 companies issued with a fine for nuisance calling since April 2015, only 6 paid theirs in full.

And according to ICO's response to a Freedom of Information request from November 2016, one of the companies who haven't paid their fine in full is Prodial, who held the record for the largest nuisance calling fine previous to Keurboom (at £350,000).

To be fair, ICO do try to motivate companies to pay up, having offered Keurboom a 20% discount if they pay their fine before June 1st, which is only one day before the final deadline. Yet the fact that ICO enjoy a fine payment rate of around 22.2% hints strongly at the possibility that Keurboom will pay little if anything.

Blocking now

This is why it's vital that the Government introduce the new law enabling ICO to fine directors as soon as possible, since without it ICO's announcements of "record fines" will remain a little too tokenistic and ineffectual for comfort.

Still, even if they do seem to be mostly for show, there are a few things members of the public can do right now to avoid having to put up with nuisance calling.

For one, they can ask their landline and mobile phone providers about the call blocking schemes they run, with BT's Call Protect service perhaps being the most high profile of these.

And failing that, they could also look into purchasing one of the many phones on the market that come with call filtering features, and that enable them to make nuisance calls largely a thing of the past.

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