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Feeling Harassed by PPI Calls?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, more than 30 million people or nearly two thirds of British adults have received unwanted messages concerning claims for mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI).

Moreover, 55% of those surveyed state they were contacted more than ten times in 12 months. Out of all those surveyed a considerable 98% of those contacted felt they had not given their permission to be contacted.

Little wonder that people are fed up with unsolicited PPI calls but what can be done about them and how should legitimate business avoid breaking the rules?

Direct Marketing Legislation

There are various pieces of legislation that govern direct marketing including the Data Protection Act 1998 and the EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications.

The current legislation relating to electronic marketing makes it unlawful in certain circumstances to transmit an automated recorded message for direct marketing purposes via a telephone, without prior consent. Notably, this means it can be is unlawful to send someone direct marketing where no permission has specifically been granted (e.g. via an opt-in agreement). Indeed, this is specifically provided for in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

The number of complaints received by the ICO and the results of a recent Citizens Advice Bureau survey suggest that the legislation has done little to stem the torrent of unwanted contact.

Gaps in Existing Consumer Protection Legislation

Regulators such as the Office of Fair Trading and the Information Commissioner’s Office have prevented some attempts to subvert legislation. Fines have been issued where companies have offered an opt-out option only after adding a consumer’s contact details to their database.

However, the current laws do not apply where there is an existing relationship between the callers. Moreover, the law provides a low threshold for a company to form a new customer relationship. Indeed, a consumer can unwittingly give permission to receive direct marketing by neglecting to correctly complete an opt-in (or on occasion opt-out) tick box.

Similarly, listening to automated voicemails can be used to automatically opt-in a consumer. This makes it easy for a company to set up an existing relationship with the targeted caller but businesses should be aware of the reputational issues of harassing people in an unsolicited manner.

What Can Harassed Consumers Do?

There is a certain amount of legal protection for harassed consumers.

For example, all companies operating in England or abroad, must cross check the official central opt out register -the ‘Telephone Preference Service’ (TPS). It is a legal requirement that organisations do not make cold calls to numbers on this database without consent. Failure to check the register can result in large fines.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently issued two penalties totalling £225,000. The fines have were awarded to two companies recently featured on the BBC three documentary ‘The Call Centre’ –‘We Claim You Gain’ and ‘Nationwide Energy Services’. The penalties followed 2,700 complaints to the ICO registered between May 2011 and the end of December 2012 and after the provision of evidence that the companies had failed to adequately check the TPS.

Comment

Limited protection is provided to consumers by current legislation but it is relatively easy to subvert where a previous relationship exists between the ‘cold caller’ and the consumer.

Consumers should be wary of offers made through cold calls such as PPI or other claims management services. Legal claims in particular should be pursued directly with the help of a properly qualified solicitor.

Businesses using direct marketing should ensure that they operate within the rules to avoid hefty fines. For more information contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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