A company that made 22 million nuisance calls has been fined £270,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), one of the highest penalties it has ever levied for such an offence.
Basingstoke-based Road Accident Consult, trading as Media Tactics, has also been given a legal notice compelling it to stop making unlawful calls.
It comes as those in the personal injury market expressed disappointment that this week’s Budget contained no mention of a ban on cold-calling, for which claimant groups in particular have been lobbying hard.
Media Tactics made automated calls related to a variety of subjects, including personal injury claims, PPI and debt management.
Automated marketing calls, which play a recorded message, can only be made to people who have specifically agreed to receive such calls.
The company told the ICO that it had bought data from other firms and believed the people on the lists had consented to being contacted. The ICO has not said to whom the leads were sold.
The phone numbers were sourced from a range of websites, including discount and prize draw websites, pay day loans and insurance brokers and an electronic cigarette seller.
People agreed to their details being shared with “third parties whose offers we think might interest you”.
But the ICO found that the privacy notices on the websites were generic and unspecific. Some included long lists of general categories of organisations to whom the data would be disclosed, including astrology, debt collection, fashion and leisure, legal services and general marketing.
As a result, the ICO found that consents obtained were not adequate.
The ICO’s investigation was sparked by 182 complaints made to the ICO’s online reporting tool.
Steve Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said: “Media Tactics fell short of the mark when it treated consent as an administrative box-ticking exercise. Proper consent gives consumers control over how their information is used. The people targeted by Media Tactics were not given that control.”
Aggravating factors identified by the ICO when deciding the level of the fine were that the company’s director “has been involved in the lead generation business for several years and has a history of contact” with the ICO, and that it did not identify the person who was making the automated marketing calls and provide the address of the person or a telephone number on which they could be reached free of charge.
Reacting to the continuing absence of a cold-calling ban, Simon Trott, managing director of National Accident Helpline, said “It’s disappointing the Chancellor has missed yet another golden opportunity to end the menace of nuisance calls which cause real harm and distress to consumers.
“National Accident Helpline will continue to press for a blanket ban on all unsolicited marketing practices, along with more than 70 leading firms as part of the Ethical Marketing Charter. Only through doing so can we prevent rogue firms from targeting consumers and cut cold calls off at source.”