Preventing and complaining about nuisance calls and Ofcom’s record fine

Record fine for firm behind nearly 100 million nuisance calls
A company behind 99.5million nuisance calls has been fined a record £400,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Keurboom Communications Ltd, a company behind 99.5 million nuisance calls has been issued the ICO’s highest ever nuisance calls fine after more than 1,000 people complained about recorded (also known as automated – calls). £400,000

The calls, made over an 18 month period, related to a wide range of subjects including road traffic accident claims and PPI compensation. Some people received repeat calls, sometimes on the same day and during unsociable hours. The company also hid its identity, making it harder for people to complain.

Companies can only make automated marketing calls to people if they have their specific consent. Keurboom did not have consent so was in breach of the law.

Steve Eckerlsey, Head of Enforcement at the ICO said: “Keurboom showed scant regard for the rules, causing upset and distress to people unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of one its 100million calls. “The unprecedented scale of its campaign and Keurboom’s failure to co-operate with our investigation has resulted in the largest fine issued by the Information Commissioner for nuisance calls.”

During the investigation, the ICO issued seven information notices ordering the company, which is registered in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, to provide information to the regulator. When it failed to comply, Keurboom Communications Ltd and its director, Gregory Rudd, were prosecuted and fined at Luton Magistrates’ Court in April 2016.

Following the ICO’s investigation, Keurboom Communications Ltd has been placed in voluntary liquidation. The ICO is committed to recovering the fine by working with the liquidator and insolvency practitioners.

The ICO’s powers will be further strengthened when the government introduces a new law allowing it to fine the company directors behind nuisance call firms. Making directors responsible will stop them avoiding fines by putting their company into liquidation.

In 2016/17, the ICO had its busiest year for nuisance calls issuing 23 companies a total of £1.923 million for nuisance marketing.

The previous record nuisance call fine was in February 2016, when the ICO fined Prodial, a lead generation company, £350,000 for making 46 million nuisance calls.

So what can you do to prevent many of these nuisance calls?
Sign up for TPS. The Telephone Preference Service. You can register both your landline
and mobile numbers. It doesn’t stop them all but it certainly reduces it. As for the ones it
doesn’t stop, report them. It is the law that companies must check names and numbers
against the TPS register so they are breaking the law if you are registered and they
contact you. Allow 28 days for it to be all registered. TPS is not able to enforce the law or
fine, but does pass the information onto the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
If you have consented to receive marketing calls then you will still get these even if you
are registered with TPS. Watch out for comparison and other sites and make sure that
box is unchecked for wanting marketing emails.

For silent and abandoned calls, (frequently caused by automated systems dropping
calls as soon as one is answered) contact Ofcom. Abandoned calls are where you hear a
recorded message and there is a standard form online to report these calls. Ofcom won’t
take action on individual complaints, however, once it gets a large number regarding
the same company it will take action. In 2013 it fined Talk Talk £750,000 for an excessive
number of silent and abandoned calls. So report these kinds of calls. The form is simple
and quick to fill out.

For unwanted marketing calls, contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In
May 2011 it was given powers to impose a fine up to £500,000 on companies who break
the rules on unsolicited texts and phone calls.

Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively

phoneWriting v ‘phoning complaints
As many of you who follow this blog know, I always advocate putting your complaints in writing as one my Top Tips for effective complaining. You have evidence that you contacted the company, you can take your time to think about what you want to say, you can bullet point your issues, you can take out emotion, you can go back to it and rewrite until you are happy to send it and you have evidence of what they have or have not said to you (and that makes it hard for a retailer/service provider to deny and certainly going to an ADR scheme or Small Claims Court is made a lot easier with proof!) I had many appendices when I took Tesco to court! Writing means you aren’t left on the ‘phone waiting to get through to people at call centres where a lot of other issues come into play too! Many people who ask me for help with complaints have struggled because they have been phoning and not writing and don’t have a trail.

Recording calls & the Law
I often hear people saying that  they can record calls and that they will take this to an ADR scheme or Small Claims Court. Be careful here of what you can do! The interception, recording and monitoring of telephone calls is governed by a number of different pieces of UK legislation. It all points to it may be it may not! The guidance you get may be after you have made the call when it is too late.

  • The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) has no guidance on its website but when I emailed them to ask for guidance I was told:
    “Admittance of any type of evidence in a court case is decided based on the rules of the court. So whether any call recordings (either recorded for personal use or by a company when they have informed you they are recording calls) can be used in court is entirely up to the judge on a case by case basis. If you are going to court then it would be advisable to speak to your solicitor about it or if you are representing yourself then the court clerk may be able to advise you.”
  • The Justice department, (Your rights and the law)  said it could not provide legal advice.
  • Ofcom give this guidance on recording calls. This says that you can record calls for your own use and if you want to use to share with a third party (such as ADR or SCC) you must ask the person you are calling for their consent. This could be refused in which case you will not be able to use. However, when emailed to give more guidance on whether ‘phone calls can be used in court Ofcom said “I’m afraid we’re not able to give guidance on his matter.”

Therefore, think carefully before ringing as you may not have the evidence you need should you need to take the matter further. I also think that the difficulties of proving what was said in phone calls is a reason that many companies make it so difficult to email! Don’t be beaten because you can always email the CEO – find the address of any CEO here.

Tips for if you have to ‘phone
However, sometimes you need to ‘phone as it is urgent. What do you need to bear in mind?

  • Write down exactly what you want to say before you pick up the ‘phone, which will mean that you are prepared.
  • Take a note of the date and time you started and finished the call
  • Be polite, if you aren’t you risk the customer services representative refusing to speak to you
  • Ensure you get the name of the person to whom you are talking, first and second name
  • Quote relevant Acts where necessary. If you are not receiving services undertaken with reasonable skill and care and that includes over the ‘phone, then say that they are in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
  • Ask the person to whom you are talking to put what has been agreed in writing preferably by email and whilst you are on the ‘phone.
  • Read this post about call centres!

Then there is social media, more on that here.

For more tips on how to complain effectively see this post and for loads more advice, tips, information, guidance, examples of complaining effectively and templates see How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

How to get answers from Government & other public bodies

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

Freedom of Information Requests can be made of any public body:

government departments, and other public bodies and committees
local councils
schools, colleges and universities
health trusts, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries
publicly owned companies
publicly funded museums
the police

You can ask any information of these public bodies. Public bodies use pubic money and you have an entitlement to find out how it is being used. For example, the expenses scandal broke because of Freedom of Information requests –used well they can be powerful.

You can write to any public body directly. Contact details for doing so will be available on the organisation’s website. You can also make your request public by using the WhatDoTheyKnow website, asking your question through this site will get your request to the right place and also be made public as will the answer. check it out to see the sort of things that have been asked.

Why FOI post on a blog about consumer rights?
Well, because as well as it being your right to find out information about how your money is spent, it can also help give you information you may need to strengthen your complaint. For example asking how many staff are meant to be on duty in ward between set times on set days if you want to complain about understaffing in a ward and have no idea how many staff there should be on duty.

Responses 
Public bodies must respond within 20 days. There are exceptions to providing information. Some sensitive information isn’t available to members of the public. If this applies, the organisation must tell you why they can’t give you some or all of the information you requested or it might ask you to be more specific so they can provide just the information you need.

An organisation can also refuse your Freedom of Information (FOI) request if it will cost more than £450 (£600 for central government) to find and extract the information. That includes administration time. If you have more than one question send them as separate requests.

If the body has not sent you their response within the 20 working days you can report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Tips
1) Don’t ask for qualitative information. e.g. why did the organisation make a decision? You would need to ask for copies of meetings regarding xyz and then see for yourself how the decision was made.

2) Keep a note of the date you asked the FOI and chase on the 21st working day threatening to report to the ICO if you haven’t had a reply.

3) When you email an FOI you should receive an email saying that your email has been received, if you do not receive this, follow up to ensure that it has been received and get a reference number.

4) When you receive your confirmation, keep their reference number should you need to follow up if you haven’t had a response then you will need this.

5) Check the public body’s website for the information, if the information is available and online the public body will send you a link it is not obliged to answer detailed questions or post you the information if it readily available.

6) Follow the complaint procedure if you do not agree with a decision not to provide you with the information. This will be using the internal complaints procedure explaining clearly your arguments for why you don’t agree. If you remain dissatisfied you can take the matter to the ICO.

Real examples of FOIs I have made

CCTV parking offences. A couple of years ago I asked how much money was generated from the car in our borough which sits at the end of a road and “catches” people turning left. (Which in my humble opinion is utterly pointless- if they turn right they can turn right again instantly and turn round in the short in/out road to a car park causing more disturbance to pedestrians than turning left). I was given piles of information! Some I wasn’t given because the work was up to tender and therefore deemed as “sensitive”. It was an incredibly high amount which more than paid for the staff and vehicles. Unfortunately this was before discussions and rulings about CCTV being income generating…

Police. Last year someone was putting stickers on keyholes giving the number of a locksmith. This number was unobtainable. Stories about this happening previously in other boroughs had been in the media over the last year or so. The story went that burglars were putting on these stickers and if in the following one or two days they were still up then the house was empty and could be burgled. The local paper ran this story, Facebook posts were shared all over the place and a head teacher of at least one school sent this warning home. People were very worried about a rise in crime and violence with these robberies.

I emailed our local police. Firstly I asked if there was truth in this story and if so what they were doing about it and why they weren’t warning residents I was told that actually there was no truth in the story whatsoever. A neighbourhood police officer had actually caught someone putting the stickers on doors and confiscated the roll to prompt his boss to ‘phone the police officer. He duly did so. This was a new company who thought that this was a good idea to drum up business…. before their ‘phone lines were in use. I don’t suppose I need to state my opinion on that!

However, people seemed certain that they were hearing of far more burglaries than the previous year so I asked some FOIs regarding the number of burglaries in the previous 8 weeks and for the same period in the previous year, how many were with violence and roughly day or night. There was no increase, only one with violence and that one they thought was more suspicious. The media and people’s perception (perhaps with so much social media activity) was unfounded. I was therefore able to share all the facts on Facebook local area group pages, on my page etc., and alleviate some fears. The local paper never printed the correct story despite requests by the police. So an answer to an FOI can also stop you sending in a complaint if it gives you different/more information.

Department of Work and Pensions. I am unfortunate enough to have Iain Duncan Smith as my MP. Luckily I have never had to meet him to ask for him to help me with anything. However, I took it upon myself to challenge him regarding food banks, cost of living and ATOS. I went twice and recorded the events. The write ups can be found here and the clips on my YouTube channel Helen Dewdney. I asked various questions of the DWP, some I forwarded to activists, and others I shared on my Facebook page, such as the number of verbal and physical threats made to staff.

For further information about how you can use the information you glean to pursue complaints see the book.