A tribunal has increased an £80,000 fine meted out to a telemarketing company found to have made personal injury claims calls to people signed up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
Judge Chris Hughes added another £10,000 to the fine on his own motion, saying that the director behind Alistar Green Legal Services (AGLS) had shown a similar disregard of the rules with another company, which had been liquidated before the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) could take action.
In January 2019, AGLS, based in Liverpool, was fined for making unsolicited calls to 213 people who were registered with the TPS during four months in 2017.
All related to supposed road traffic accident claims. Complainants included one who said AGLS made “very rude and threatening” calls every day, another who said the company put the phone down on him when he asked for an address, and a third who said the date of the accident cited by AGLS was a false one they had deliberately entered into comparison websites.
“It is reasonable to suppose that the contravention could have been far higher because those who went to the trouble to complain represent only a proportion of those who actually receive the call,” the ICO noted.
It found that the data was obtained from a company not registered with the ICO, the data did not show valid consent which would override TPS registration, and ALGS had acknowledged that its live TPS screening was not active for at least two months.
The fine was meant to act as a “deterrent against non-compliance, on the part of all persons running businesses currently engaged in these practices”.
Rejecting ALGS’s appeal, the First-tier Tribunal in Wigan said there was “an almost total absence of the systems and controls necessary” to ensure the company was properly run and compliant with the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
It said: “During the period when AGLS was active in the telemarketing business it did not have a TPS licence, on [director Kabir Abbas] Sharif’s account its equipment which should have prevented it from call TPS registered numbers was not functioning correctly, a key employee responsible for operations/dealing with complaints did not know what he was doing and, it is claimed, supressed all information about complaints, post to the company at its registered office was not collected despite the fact that it was its place of business where thirty staff worked.”
Judge Hughes said numbers were purchased from unregistered organisations and AGLS was unable to produce evidence that individuals had consented to receive calls.
“On the contrary the complaints logged by TPC and the IC showed repeated calls to the same numbers despite the repeated protests of subscribers which should have prevented a further call, but which did not, and also discourtesy and bullying by AGLS staff.”
The judge said the £80,000 fine was “a proportionate response, consistent with other financial penalties imposed in the light of the numbers of calls made and complaints received”.
He added: “It is now clear that the total number of complaints relating to AGLS was higher than the IC took into account when determining the amount of the monetary penalty.”
It had also become apparent that Mr Sharif had also controlled Lumen Corporation, ALGS’s predecessor, which handled health marketing. This had a similar history of breach of the 2013 regulations before it was liquidated.
“There is a clear pattern of wholesale disregard for the law. The tribunal is charged with reviewing all the evidence and may make a different determination with respect to the monetary penalty.
“In the circumstances the tribunal is satisfied that a penalty of £90,000 should be substituted.”