ICO and Ofcom draw up joint action plan to tackle nuisance calls

31 July 2013

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and Ofcom today published a joint action plan to tackle the issue of nuisance calls and help protect consumers.

The ICO and Ofcom share responsibility for taking action against organisations that generate nuisance calls or messages.1 The ICO has lead responsibility for tackling those companies who make nuisance marketing calls or send unsolicited marketing text messages, while Ofcom uses its powers to deal with silent and abandoned calls.2

The plan represents a formal commitment from both organisations to work in partnership on a series of initiatives covering a range of areas. It also summarises key work carried out by the ICO and Ofcom in recent months to address the issue of nuisance calls.

Important priorities for the ICO and Ofcom in the months ahead include:

  • ongoing targeted enforcement against non-compliant organisations;3
  • improving call and message tracing processes to track down those responsible for making nuisance calls;
  • an assessment of the impact of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS)4 on the level of unsolicited live sales and marketing calls, to understand how well the TPS is currently working for consumers; and
  • publication of revised industry guidance on marketing consent to include detailed advice on appropriate methods of consent, the limitations of indirect third-party consent, time limits, and the need for records of consent.5

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer Group Director said: "This joint action plan serves to cement our partnership with the ICO as we work together to tackle nuisance calls and protect consumers."

Simon Entwisle, ICO Director of Operations added: "Only concerted, joint action can tackle the consumer menace of nuisance calls. This plan shows we mean business and outlines how we will continue our work with Ofcom to tackle the problem."

The joint action plan can be found here. The ICO and Ofcom will publish a general update on progress on this programme of work in early 2014.

A blog post to accompany today’s announcement can also be found on the ICO's website.

A guide for consumers on preven'ing and complaining about nuisance calls (produced with other regulators and consumer groups) is available on the Ofcom website and has been viewed online almost 160,000 times.

An online portal to help consumers register a complaint by directing them to the appropriate regulator can also be found on the Ofcom website.


Notes to Editors:

  1. The ICO is responsible for enforcing the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 ('PECR'). These regulations prohibit organisations from making unsolicited live direct marketing calls to consumers who have registered their number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). PECR also prohibits organisations from making automated direct marketing calls or sending unsolicited direct marketing emails or SMS text messages to individual consumers who have not consented to receiving such messages. Ofcom is responsible for taking enforcement action against organisations that make abandoned and silent calls, using its powers under sections 128 to 131 of the Communications Act 2003 in relation to 'persistent misuse of networks or services'.
  2. An abandoned call occurs where a connection is established but is then terminated by the person making the call when the consumer answering picks up the receiver. Ofcom expects that, in such circumstances, the consumer should hear a brief recorded information message from the organisation that is trying to call them providing the identity of the organisation and a means of contacting them to opt out of receiving further marketing calls from that organisation. A silent call is a type of abandoned call, where a consumer receives a call but can hear nothing on answering the phone and has no means of establishing whether anyone is at the other end of the line.
  3. Ofcom research suggests that Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) claims accounted for the largest proportion of unwanted calls (22%) where the product or service could be identified. Ofcom is focussing its enforcement action accordingly and is currently investigating suspected abandoned and silent calls made by companies in the PPI/claims management sector. Ofcom is also considering enforcement action against organisations that fail to provide consumers with the information they need to contact the caller after receiving an abandoned or silent call. The ICO is currently considering monetary penalties of up to £500,000 against five companies. The ICO is also working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) following its commitment to explore the lowering of the legal threshold for issuing a monetary penalty under the PECR. This change would allow the ICO to issue penalties to companies whose unlawful calls are causing a 'nuisance, annoyance and anxiety' rather than 'serious or substantial damage and distress' allowing for earlier action to be taken against companies clearly breaching the rules.
  4. The Telephone Preference Service is a central opt out register whereby individuals can register their wish not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing telephone calls. It is a legal requirement that companies do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS.
  5. The ICO is currently reviewing all of its guidance on direct marketing under PECR and the Data Protection Act 1998, and aims to publish fully revised and updated guidance in early September 2013. This will include comprehensive new guidance on consent for marketing, with detailed advice on appropriate methods of consent, the limitations of indirect third-party consent, time limits, and the need for records of consent. The guidance will help responsible organisations to keep within the law, while emphasising what enforcement action the ICO can take against those who ignore the rules.
  6. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across TV, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.