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Nuisance calls firm fined £80,000

Published 01/04/2015

One complainant said the callers left them in fear of answering the phone
One complainant said the callers left them in fear of answering the phone

A personal injury claims company has been fined £80,000 by the privacy watchdog for making nuisance calls - in one case phoning a single household 470 times.

Direct Assist told another complainant that they were likely to be called for three years until they made a claim, despite repeated requests for their details to be removed.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) registered 801 concerns about the Bolton-based company between January 2013 and July last year.

Every complaint came from someone who was registered with the TPS and who had not given permission for the company to call them, the ICO said.

One elderly and deaf complainant said the callers left them in fear of answering the phone that they relied on to maintain contact with family.

Direct Assist continued to call despite being given this information, the ICO said.

The ICO found that Direct Assist instructed its staff to deliberately use phone numbers from lists that included people on the TPS, even claiming that the calls were being made by someone else using their company name.

ICO head of enforcement Steve Eckersley said: "Direct Assist's behaviour shows a blatant disregard for the law and the customers they tried to contact.

"Even though the TPS contacted them 525 times to warn them about complaints being made they continued to market their services through unsolicited phone calls.

"This penalty sends a clear message that this type of irresponsible marketing is totally unacceptable. Companies need to think about their responsibilities, the law and the consequences if they try to break it."

Direct Assist had now gone into liquidation and the ICO said it intended to register as an unsecured creditor in an attempt to obtain the fine.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "This company has driven a coach and horses through cold calling rules and it's good the ICO has acted decisively.

"We want to see more fines when the rules change next week to make it easier for regulators to punish firms making these calls.

"We also want to see senior executives held personally responsible for their company's behaviour on nuisance calls, which could include disqualifying company directors if they flout the rules."

From April 6, the legal requirement on the ICO to prove "substantial damage or distress" will be removed to make it easier to impose fines.

AA counter fraud director Stephen Gaywood said: " The proliferation of personal injury claim organisations trying to persuade people to make claims for injuries they may not have suffered has reached epidemic proportions. It has led many people to make a claim just to get such firms off their backs.

"As a result, the number of injury claims has sharply risen despite the number of collisions on Britain's roads going down. This has put pressure on car insurance premiums because the cost of claims and legal fees is the equivalent of £92 on every car insurance premium."

A recent poll for the AA found that 63% of motorists had been cold-called by firms trying to persuade them to make an injury claim in the past 12 months, even if they had not been injured.

More than a third (36%) said they had been called more than 10 times in a year by such firms.

Mr Gaywood said: " I hope this fine gets the message through to the dozens of firms employing similar underhand cold-call tactics that people are no longer prepared to put up with it."

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