Board level accountability needed to help stop nuisance calls and texts

The Government’s Nuisance Calls Task Force will today formally set out recommendations to help tackle the everyday menace of unwanted calls and texts including holding senior executives to account for the behaviour of their company.

The task force, chaired by Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, is part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Action Plan on nuisance calls. It was asked by the Government to review the way businesses obtain and use consumers’ consent to be contacted by phone and text for direct marketing.

It will make 15 recommendations, including making senior executives more responsible for the actions of their company. The recommendations will be presented to Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey, at an event in Westminster this evening.

The task force recommendations focus on how organisations use consumer consent to carry out direct marketing activity and to buy and sell potential customer leads.The key areas the recommendations will focus on include:

Calling on businesses to improve their direct marketing practices

Businesses to make compliance with the rules on consumer consent a board level matter, with senior executives held to account for the behaviour of their company.

Companies should allow consumers to easily revoke consent to being contacted and view Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance on a six-month time limit for third party consent as the minimum standard.

Marketing companies should ensure any sales leads they buy have been fairly and legally obtained and that they have a record of consumer consent being given.

Urging further action by the regulators

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should take account of the task force findings in any work it undertakes on the commercial use of personal data. We recommend the CMA should work with other regulators to understand issues which cause consumer harm and identify action to remedy problems.

The ICO should develop further practical solutions to causes of nuisance calls; and develop best practice for providing information to consumers, including wording for how people opt-in and opt-out of being contacted for marketing purposes.

Recommended action for Government

Government should lead a cross-sector business awareness campaign to ensure   companies know their responsibilities when it comes to making marketing calls and texts; and consider how future legislation could tackle nuisance marketing.

Richard Lloyd, Chair of the Nuisance Calls Task Force, said:

“Consumers have suffered nuisance calls and texts for far too long. They are often confused or misled by requests for consent to being contacted, so today we set out recommendations to introduce tougher rules and more action from businesses, the regulators and the Government. Only through concerted and coordinated action will we put people back in control of their data and help bring this modern day menace to an end.”

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, said:

“For too long nuisance calls have plagued consumers, often at very inconvenient times of the day and in some cases leaving vulnerable people like the elderly too scared to answer the phone.

“That’s why we’re determined to tackle this scourge through the first ever Nuisance Calls Action Plan. We’ve already made progress including making it easier for Ofcom to share information with the ICO about companies breaking the rules, and we’re currently looking at lowering or removing the legal threshold before firms could be hit with fines of up to £500,000.

“By working together with the industry, regulators and consumer groups like Which? – who we are grateful to for heading up the task force – we can work to make a real difference for consumers. The report provides clear action for business and regulators to act on, and we will carefully consider the recommendations for Government.”

Justice and Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes, said:

“Unwanted marketing calls and texts can bring real misery for the people on the receiving end and this Government is determined to tackle the problem.

“We have already increased the level of fines available to punish rogue companies.  We now want to make it easier for the Information Commissioner to take action against these companies which break the law. Those responsible should be held to account, and we will review how they are made to answer for any wrongdoing.”

Notes to Editors

1.    The Government asked Which? to chair a task force looking at the issues of consumer consent and the lead generation industry as part of it nuisance call Action Plan announced in March 2014. Membership of the Nuisance Calls and Texts Task Force on Consent and Lead Generation included Ofcom, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Direct Marketing Association, CallCredit, Barclaycard, the CCA, the Ministry of Justice and the Communications Consumer Panel. The task force has looked at issues including:

·         Definition of consent – especially whether people are giving informed consent

·         Clarity of information provided by marketing companies

·         Methods of obtaining consent – whether consent is opt-in or opt-out or through pre-ticked boxes

·         Consistency across Channels – looking at requirements of different channels (email, text, phone)

·         Time-limits – how long consent should last once it has been given

·         Usage – how data can be used and shared once consent has been given

·         Record Keeping – how do firms demonstrate consent has been obtained legally

·         Responsibility – the relationship between lead generators and companies

Conducting marketing activities and who is responsible for obtaining consent.

Further details on the task force are available here

2.     A copy of the full report can be found here and it includes all 15 recommendations in the Executive Summary.

3.     A full list of reactions from members of the Nuisance Call task force can be found here

4.   Which? launched its Calling Time on Nuisance Calls campaign, which has gained around 135,000 supporters, after finding around eight in 10 people (83%) had received a nuisance call on their land line in the previous month. Eight in 10 people found these calls an annoying interruption, while one third felt intimidated by them. More than 50,000 complaints have been logged on the Which? Nuisance calls online complaint tool, with around half going on to complain to the regulator.

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