back to article UK watchdog fines biz £130k for 900,000+ direct marketing calls to folk who had opted out

A home improvement biz based in East Sussex is facing a fine of £130,000 for making upwards of 900,000 unsolicited marketing calls to individuals and businesses that had enrolled on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Colour Coat of St Leonards-on-Sea made almost 970,000 connected calls between 1 August 2019 and 31 March …

  1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Cost of doing business or a fine?

    That's about £7 per call if my napkin maths skills are still up to scratch. Will I get at least a fiver or who pockets that cash?

    1. markr555

      Re: Cost of doing business or a fine?

      "if my napkin maths skills are still up to scratch"

      They're not.

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: Cost of doing business or a fine?

        Ok my friend, I reached for my Casio FX-991EX and as I did it I realised the figure I got was calls per pound. That means for a pound they could make ~6.92 calls.

        The actual cost per call was 0.14p which is quite cheap and answers my question. It's not a fine ladies and gentlement, but good ol' cost of doing business!

      2. Blazde Silver badge

        Re: Cost of doing business or a fine?

        To be fair, having read the headline, the first paragraph and second paragraph of the article several times, I've not the first clue how many calls were made. It's enough to confuse even a very large napkin.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cost of doing business or a fine?

      ICO fines are paid into the treasury and become general government funds (in the same way as taxation). They are not kept by the ICO.

  2. batfink Silver badge

    Another ineffective fine

    Yet another fine on a company which will just fold and reappear under another name, and carry on as before. The fines should be on the Directors, not the Company.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Another ineffective fine

      ^^^ That!

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Another ineffective fine

      What's the problem getting a patsy as a director?

    3. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Another ineffective fine

      Directors can now be prosecuted. This hopefully is the first step.

      1. Press any key

        Re: Another ineffective fine

        For this crime they should be persecuted.

      2. Cynical Pie

        Re: Another ineffective fine

        Not for breaches of PECR which this is.

        Personal liability is only applicable for breaches of GDPR which while technically this is as you have no condition for processing under Art 6 of GDPR, the legislation then says the appropriate legislation for managing this is PECR so it removes any of the penalties available under GDPR/DPA2018.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Another ineffective fine

          Isn't a phone number PII under GDPR? Surely this means these cold calling businesses are holding PII without consent in at least the cases where people have registered their number with TPS, defaulting consent to "NO!"

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Another ineffective fine

          The ICO can object to the winding up order as a creditor and prevent phoenixing

          The real problem is that this isn't being automatically checked for and blocked as happens in many other countries if there are outstanding fines

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    lying, being rude and aggressive, to just hanging up when challenged

    You've already told us they were doing marketing calls...

  4. Lee D Silver badge

    Why would you go out of your way to try to contact people who expressly tell you that they don't want you to contact them, and don't want to do business with you? I can't understand the mentality.

    Approach me without consent and I will blacklist your company and any service you offer.

    Do so in a non-innocent manner, and I will literally go out of my way to report your company (to places like the TPS, etc.) and get you in trouble.

    So why would you bother? I simply can't believe that enough people who were on the TPS already then said "Oh, yes, so you're phoning unsolicited even though I've specifically opted-out of such communication and it's illegal, but now that you mention it, I *do* need my roof doing and I won't hold it against you at all" to make it profitable to do so.

    "Hey, we have a list of people who literally don't want to do business with you"... I know! I'll ring them all and piss them off, that'll get me more business!

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      It is an unfortunate fact of life that there is a portion of the population who can be coerced into accepting a contract, even if they have no use for it and don't want it.

      That is why we need laws to catch the bastards who try anyway.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge
      Terminator

      > Why would you go out of your way to try to contact people who expressly tell you that they don't want you to contact them

      It does seem very strange indeed, but it actually works if you totally and utterly disregard anybody else's opinion.

      That's not me being sarcastic (for once...), I actually talked with a sales guy of that persuasion once, trying to understand just this. He clearly didn't care, or wanted to even think about his victims' clients' wishes, his one and only goal was to make a sale, even at gunpoint. Thrill of the chase and all that I guess.

      Now there was also an internal rationalization going on ("I would do them a disservice to not insist") not unlike that of rapists: "I know she likes it, so sod the cries and fake tears".

      They are dangerous sociopaths with absolutely no empathy, and saying you don't want to play is just issuing a challenge to them.

      (Most appropriate icon)

    3. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Some people will agree after you try sufficient number of times, just to be left alone. They will treat the loss as a cost of getting whoever was calling them off their backs.

      What else they can do? If they call the police, they'll be fobbed off. If they call Trading Standards, they will be told, to not pick up the phone. Maybe they'll ask a solicitor how to get a some sort of restraining order? But then how do you know who do you put it against?

      When you get all this potential hassle in mind, the option to pay may be the cheapest one.

      Problem is that in many areas our frameworks are defunct and encourage such behaviour.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "Some people will agree after you try sufficient number of times, just to be left alone. They will treat the loss as a cost of getting whoever was calling them off their backs."

        Yup.

        On one training course I was at, this was brought up in the context of a company which started doing investigations into why people stopped bvuying its products - it sent people out to talk to customers and find out what they thought of the product, what could be done better, etc etc

        What came back was that ONE PERSON was responsible for their decisions never to do business with the company again - and when he was named, C-level staff fell off their chairs because he was their single best travelling sales guy _ever_ with a sales rate (and commission level) 4 times higher than the next best salesman

        The long and the short of it was that he was so annoying and persistent on cold sales visits that people were buying stuff simply to make him go away and frequently just dumping the product afterwards, so those first sales weren'f being converted into essential long-term repeat business. If he made repeat visits they'd frequently make the smallest possible purchase as quickly as possible just to get him out the door, even if they were committed users of something else.

        The guy was costing the company millions of dollars and after they got rid of him they eventually started shifting much more product with lower overheads and grew sales organically, but it took at least a decade to undo the damage he'd inflicted..

    4. Velv
      Facepalm

      "Why would you go out of your way to try to contact people who expressly tell you that they don't want you to contact them"

      Ignorance. Not contacting people on TPS involves getting a copy of TPS, getting someone to merge against the contact list you've bought, and remove the relevant entries. Or you can just load the contact list you've bought into the autodialler and have your agents say "oops, my bad" when the end contact complains.

      1. pop_corn

        > "getting someone to merge against the contact list you've bought, and remove the relevant entries."

        That requires spending money up front on someone with half an IT brain. I would hazard a guess that such a step is not high up on the list of priorities for people in this business.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Or they could pay a little more for a properly sanitised list in the first place. I'd be prepared the bet the extra for a sanitised list from a reputable company (they do exist, don't they?) would be much less than the fine. The problem is, how many cold callers are prepared to bet against getting caught in the first place?

    5. Terry 6 Silver badge

      it is incomprehensible. As with all the other forced or tricked advertising. If the members of the public clearly don't want to hear about their product, why would they make the effort to bypass the boundaries.

      Do they think their poxy cold-calls or nagging pop-ups will somehow lure the punters in through their hypnotic influence.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        I once did a short sales course. It was part of our companies "see how other nits of the company work" sort of thing. The biggest and most emphasised point the head of sales kept making was "each sales area OWES us x amount of money and it's our job to go get it". It came across as a protection racket to those us not actually in sales.

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          It was part of our companies "see how other nits of the company work"

          Nit, noun: persistent, annoying parasite, only survives by leeching off bigger entities

          Yeah, I'm fairly sure you meant to type "units", but my, what a deliciously apposite typo...

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Hiding phone numbers, telling porkies

    You misrepresent yourself, you are automatically filed in "shyster".

    You are a liar, and a potential thief.

    970 thousand calls and only a £130k fine ? Okay, but put the CEO in jail for criminal activity. He knew what he was authorising.

    It is high time we took to task the people who have ultimate responsability. Enough molly-cuddling companies who actively ignore the law.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hiding phone numbers, telling porkies

      The problem with that is that if all the law-breaking directors get punished, the Tory party donations fund might suffer...

      1. Mishak

        Re: Hiding phone numbers, telling porkies

        However, they could also go up, as the "donors" won't be able to spend their our hard-earned cash as easily from the inside.

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Hiding phone numbers, telling porkies

        And its membership.

      3. Cynical Pie

        Re: Hiding phone numbers, telling porkies

        And this good Burghers of El Reg Land is the issue.

        The ability to jail people for breaches of Data Protection and PECR has been 'almost' available for several years now, its just that the chancers in Westminster haven't enacted the necessary statutory instrument to enable that element of the legislation to be applied.

        Its almost like they have a vested interest in not applying it!

  6. Da Weezil

    Time for prison sentences for the directors, no point in pussyfooting around with fines against a soon to be dissolved/bankrupt company, directors should be personally liable on pain of imprisonment to avoid them claiming the 5 bed executive house he/she lives in actually belongs to his/her spouse or partner. The one thing they can’t lay off is their physical person, that should be the forfeit.

  7. po

    Surely drawing, quartering and boiling in oil would be a more appropriate penalty?

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Boiling in oil? I think you will find that baking at 250C in a salt and hay crust with a wild garlic puree would be a more modern, healthier method ...

    2. Da Weezil

      “Surely drawing, quartering and boiling in oil would be a more appropriate penalty?”

      I do like the way you think on this subject, maybe make an occasion of it, with dancing and beers culminating in the ritual disposal of the shyster

  8. heyrick Silver badge

    Epic title error

    Title - 90,000+ calls.

    Start of the article - upwards of 900,000 calls.

    Later in the article - nearly 970,000 calls.

    Call it what it is - nearly a million calls.

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: Epic title error

      Perhaps more were made while they were writing the article?

    2. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Epic title error

      Yep, that's why there's a link at the bottom of the article called "Corrections" - just click it and tell someone at El Reg that there's a problem and they will fix it, just like I did a few minutes ago. Hey, they're only human (and currently short of staff)!

      Oh look, the title now says "900,000+".

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Said it before, I'll say it again. What's needed is legislation to enable recipients to be able to dial a code, say in the 147x range to register a spam call. Once sufficient complaints have been made their telephone account is credited with a fee - more if the number is TPS registered, which is charged to the caller plus a handling fee. The call arrives from a different network - that network gets charged and can pass on its own handling fee and tough on them if they don't keep tabs on where the call comes from. Abuse would be limited PDQ by credit control of the caller's telecoms provider.

    In practice the threat of this and the cost of developing the systems to set it up would be such that suddenly the insoluble problem of controlling it by the telecoms industry would suddenly be solved.

  10. UCAP Silver badge

    A well deserved ouch

    While this does seem like a puny fine, we have to look at it in the light of the company's assets - basically ICO has fined the company three times its worth as of 2019. That is going to sting like crazy! If the company does declare bankruptcy to try to avoid the fine, the sole director is likely to find himself personally liable for the entire lot.

    1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: A well deserved ouch

      Don't be daft. The low assets are because the directors will keep cash out of the company as much as possible, in order to prevent it being hoovered up in fines. Presumably the revenue from making these calls is already elsewhere.

      The sole director will simply wave and smile at the receivers, as they consume the remaining assets in fees. Limited liability means just that - the Director and Sole shareholder's liability is limited to the initial investment. Mr Jones lost his £1.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: A well deserved ouch

        as has been repeatedly pointed out in the last few years, the ICO has the ability to prevent the company being wound up, to shift the liabilty for fines onto the directors and to ask that the directors be barred

        Acting as a director when barred (fronting) is somewhat more serious than making lots of calls and at least one phoenixed outfit has been caught using "fronted" people. At that point criminal prosecutions and jailtime beckon.

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "This company had no regard for the law ..."

    This is of course a breach of PECR, but the same almost universally in respect of Data Protection law - practically no business respects it. The sad thing is though that there's also very little effective enforcement compared with the scale of the problem, and the authorities don't seem to mind all that much - witness the almost certain grant of "adequacy" by the EU.

  12. MrMerrymaker Silver badge

    Jail time for the directors

    Enough said.

  13. Sub 20 Pilot

    Same shit different name..

    The government can change laws at the drop of a hat when they want to do so and I ask them why do you not act on this when the same thing happens almost every time someone is fined ?

    Where is the punishment ?

    To be stupidly charitable, on the first offence by the director of this type of outfit, fine them personally.

    If they are a persistent offender throw the fuckers off a cliff somewhere.

    Covid is killing the wrong people..

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