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Government Sets Out New UK Penalties for Nuisance Calls and Texts UPDATE

Thursday, June 16th, 2022 (10:30 pm) - Score 2,400
smartphone with incoming call from unknown person

The UK Government has today responded to an earlier consultation on their new Data Reform Bill (DRB) by, among other things, setting out how they’ll increase the financial penalties for those pestering people with nuisance calls and text (SMS) messages. But this probably won’t do much to stop calls made from outside the country.

Ofcom estimated that 44.6 million UK people may have received scam calls and text messages during just the three months of last summer (here), with 2% of recipients being duped by them. Nuisance calls include marketing calls (live and recorded), silent calls and abandoned calls. Scam calls also come in all sorts of different shapes, from people claiming that your computer has been infected with viruses, to those pretending to represent your bank, HMRC, NHS etc. We’ve all had them.

NOTE: The DRB actually covers a lot of other areas, such as the softening of existing privacy rules and reducing cookie pop-ups on websites, but those are outside our focus.

Most of the major UK home phone, broadband ISPs and mobile network operators have already developed technical measures to tackle Nuisance Calls, but these aren’t always 100% effective and there are still plenty of operators – often smaller players and many VoIP providers – that take very little action against such calls.

The new bill won’t resolve everything, but it will increase fines for nuisance calls and texts and other serious data breaches under the UK’s existing Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which aim to prevent companies contacting people for marketing purposes without consent.

In today’s response, the Government has proposed that fines will now increase from the current maximum of £500,000 and be brought in line with current UK GDPR penalties, which are up to 4% of a company’s global turnover or £17.5 million, whichever is greater. This will be overseen by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

NOTE: The PECR already prohibits organisations that undertake direct marketing from contacting individuals by phone if they are registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), or have previously informed the company that they do not wish to be contacted. But the effectiveness of this is debatable.

Nadine Dorries, UK Digital Secretary, said:

“Today is an important step in cementing post-Brexit Britain’s position as a science and tech superpower. Our new Data Reform Bill will make it easier for businesses and researchers to unlock the power of data to grow the economy and improve society, but retains our global gold standard for data protection.

Outside of the EU we can ensure people can control their personal data, while preventing businesses, researchers and civil society from being held back by a lack of clarity and cumbersome EU legislation.”

At the time of writing, we haven’t yet seen the Government’s full response to their earlier consultation, partly because they’ve decided to upload it late at night and haven’t shared a preview copy. Suffice to say, we’ll update again tomorrow to summarise any other new details.

One obvious challenge here is that most such calls and texts already originate from outside the UK, which may dampen the impact of any new penalties. However, Ofcom are currently working with telecommunications providers to stop some of this by tackling the use of fake phone numbers (here), but this is a complicated area to get right and will take time to complete.

We should add that, at present, the ICO can only take action on calls which are “received” and connected, but the Government are also examining whether the ICO could take action against organisations for the number of unsolicited direct marketing calls that are “sent“. This would be complemented by a new “duty to report“, which would require comms providers to report when they have identified “suspicious traffic” (calling, texts etc.) transiting their networks.

Finally, a voluntary charter for telecommunications providers is in development, which will set out what actions they can take to prevent fraud. The framework to develop a Fraud Action Plan has already been established, which will include prevention, education, effective enforcement and regulatory reforms across several industries, including the telecommunications sector.

UPDATE 17th June 2022

The Government’s response is extremely thin, but it does confirm that they’re proceeding with some key proposals.

Government Response – Nuisance calls

The consultation proposed measures to help the ICO to tackle rogue ‘direct marketing’ firms that are responsible for generating large volumes of nuisance calls, and asked a range of open questions on this issue.

There was support for measures to allow the ICO to take enforcement action against organisations on the basis of the number of calls they generate (rather than purely on the number that are connected, which is the position under the current legislation). There was also support for the introduction of a ‘duty to report’ on communications providers, to require them to inform the ICO of suspicious levels of traffic on their networks.

The government plans to proceed with both proposals. In addition, the government is not ruling out placing further requirements on telecoms companies to block a greater volume of nuisance calls at source, if the measures outlined here do not produce tangible results.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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12 Responses
  1. Jonny says:

    I would be in favour of implementing blanket bans on presenting a UK CLI if the call originates outside the UK, like a lot of other countries have. I can’t think of a good reason why anybody should need to present +44 if their call doesn’t originate on a network that is regulated by Ofcom. At least then you have half a chance of being able to track down a UK entity to prosecute for spam/scam calls until some form of STIR/SHAKEN implementation can be mandated.

    It should be in the interests of voice providers to get on board with taking action against spam calls, because if nobody trusts a phone call and won’t answer, the providers don’t have a product that anybody sees any value in purchasing.

  2. John says:

    My Google phone has a block spam calls function. In the US it can even screen calls prior to answering. This bill is another waste of time considering this sort of tech makes it obsolete

    1. John H says:

      My Pixel 3a works that way in the UK, it warns you on the screen the call could be spam. I do not answer and then block the number.

  3. alan says:

    I had to install a new sim in my mobile with a new number
    Only been working less than a month and I am deluged with Spam calls, fortunately one by one I can block them

  4. GovzSuckzAtTechz says:

    Once again government and regulators are left in the dust when it comes to technology. This area of current debate has been a massive thawn in peoples sides for years. Why, is it that they are always on the back foot when it comes to technologies. Surely if we have the capability to send geo-guided munitions halfway around the globe to some conflict area AND/OR have the ability to collect/conduct mass survalance on the population of the planet yet we cant stop scam calling and the fraud which comes with it. Its almost laughable if it wasnt so bad.

  5. Andrew Cross says:

    Sounds very grand but in reality what percentage of fines levied by OFCOM to date have actually been paid? My guess is very few. Most of the U.K. firms behaving in this way will be limited companies who know they are breaking the law. If found out and fined they will just go bust.
    There was some talk of making the Directors of limited companies fined by OFCOM jointly and personally responsible for payment of the fines but I haven’t seen anything saying that this has been implemented. Does anyone know differently?

  6. El Guapo says:

    That’s carphonewarehouse out of business then.

  7. Crotchety says:

    Slightly off topic, has anyone on here had a scam call where the call is all in Mandarin or some Chinese dialect? I listen to it but there is no sting in the tail.

    1. Sansunna says:

      yep. do you buy things from Aliexpress by an chance?

  8. James T Johns says:

    I’ll wait to see it to believe it.

  9. Sue says:

    TPS absolutely useless.I am ex directory.and with TPS and getting calls all the time. The government should concentrate on how private numbers and addresses are illegally obtained and the people who are selling them.

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