Written By Luke Dixon, CIPP/E

The UK Information Commissioner (ICO) and Ofcom have published an update on their Joint Action Plan for tackling nuisance calls and messages.

They have identified a number of priority areas for 2014, including: (i) ongoing, targeted enforcement action; (ii) improving the tracing and technical assessment of nuisance calls; (iii) working better with Government to ensure effective coordinated action; and (iv) improving consumer information on how to reduce and report complaints about nuisance calls and messages.

A wide range of sectors generate nuisance calls. Calls regarding Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) claims caused the largest number of complaints (22%), followed by debt management and energy/green energy issues. The updated Joint Action Plan indicates that complaints to the ICO and Ofcom reached a peak in 2013. The number of complaints received in 2014 so far has dropped slightly, but is still quite high.

The ICO’s enforcement activity remains focused on taking action against persons who contravene the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regs 2003 (PECR). To demonstrate this, the report highlighted a civil monetary of £175,000 the ICO imposed on a payday loans company for sending mass SMS messages to consumers in December 2013.

The ICO believes that the penalty regime under PECR should be widened to create a stronger deterrent effect against unsolicited calls and texts. It has also lent its support to leading consumer groups who have called for the threshold for civil monetary penalties to be lowered from the current standard of “substantial damage or substantial distress”, which they say is too high.

The ICO and Ofcom have stressed that tackling nuisance calls and messages remains a priority for them, not least because the volume of complaints received from consumers remains high.