Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELM), a green energy company, has been fined GBP200,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), having been found to have recklessly broken marketing call regulations.
ICO is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. It reported on Thursday that it issued largest ever nuisance calls fine following an investigation into HELM’s operations, after it received 242 complaints from October to December 2014. HELM was found to have made over six million calls as part of a massive automated call marketing campaign offering ‘free’ solar panels. These calls often repeated and it was not always possible to connect to a person or to stop the calls by pressing an option button.
Monetary penalties imposed by the ICO are paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and not kept by the ICO.
The investigation also found that the calls were misleading because the solar panels were not necessarily free as implied by a recorded message. In order to make automated calls, an organisation should have people’s permission, which specifically names the company concerned; however ICO found this wasn’t the case with HELM, which admitted it didn’t even know what the rules were.
Complainants to ICO stated they felt powerless against the automated calls, with one claimant cited as saying that they were waiting for news of a terminally ill family member and couldn’t ignore the phone, while another person said the calls brought back memories of the morning phone call when their young grandchild had passed away. People who complained about the cold calling also stated that they felt like their home had been invaded as the answer machine filled up with calls from the company.
Detailed guidance has been published by the ICO that explains legal requirements under the Data Protection Act (DPA) and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) for companies carrying out marketing. This guidance covers the circumstances in which organisations are able to carry out marketing over the phone, by text, by email, by post or by fax.
The ICO added that anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is: Fairly and lawfully processed; Processed for limited purposes; Adequate, relevant and not excessive; Accurate and up to date; Not kept for longer than is necessary; Processed in line with your rights; Secure; Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection; and Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
Head of Enforcement at the ICO, Steve Eckersley, said:
“This company’s ignorance of the law is beyond belief. It didn’t even bother to find out what the rules were and its badly thought out marketing campaign made people’s lives a misery. The monetary penalty is for a significant amount because of the clear failings of the company, and the number of people affected by its deliberate and unlawful campaign.
“It should be a warning to other companies to think before they launch into a campaign. Direct marketing campaigns can be run within the law with a little thought and there’s plenty of advice available to companies in the ICO’s website.”