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StepChange Debt Charity response to Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on nuisance calls

5 December, 2013

In response to today’s report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on nuisance calls, StepChange Debt Charity’s head of policy Peter Tutton said:

“While today’s report provides a welcome focus on the increasing problem of nuisance calls and texts, it under estimates the real harm that such unsolicited contacts can have on consumers, particularly those who may be vulnerable.

“Nuisance calls and texts are not merely an everyday irritation, they can lead to stress and anxiety related issues, while for financially vulnerable consumers the offer of easy credit through payday loans and quick fix solutions to debt problems can result in harmful economic choices. Our Got their number report and campaign found that 3.2 million British adults have been left afraid to answer the phone as a result of unsolicited marketing calls and texts.

“Addressing the problem of nuisance calls and texts requires a range of measures including greater powers for regulators, greater co-operation between regulators and measures that give consumers control back over their personal data.”

StepChange Debt Charity believes the following measures are needed to ensure better protections for consumers from nuisance calls and texts:

Increased powers for regulators

  • The threshold for issuing monetary penalties to firms who breach the Data Protection Act (DPA) or Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) should be reduced. At present the Information Commissioner’s Officer (ICO) can only fine firms if ““substantial damage or substantial distress” to the consumer is demonstrated.
  • The ICO should be able to order firms to compensate individuals for data protection breaches, at present this power is reserved for the courts. The ICO should also be able to fine firms for psychological harm caused.
  • Regulators - ICO, Ofcom, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Claims Management Regulator (CMR) and Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) - should enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which agrees to take a unified approach to the problem of nuisance calls and text messages. This approach should lead to a joint portal for complaints and a consistent enforcement strategy.

Ensuring consumers have greater controls over personal data

  • Consumer consent for personal data to be shared should be “bounded”. The government should amend legislation to ensure that when requesting consent to share data for marketing purposes, firms must list each organisation separately, so consumers can then give or withhold individual consent to each third party. Third parties receiving consent should then not be able to share it with any additional firms for marketing purposes.
  • The ICO Guidance on DPA and PECR should be made mandatory. So the regulator can take enforcement action against firms that do not follow best practice when handling data and contacting consumers.

Limit the selling of high-risk financial products

  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should consider a ban on the “unsolicited real time promotion” of high-risk credit products and fee charging debt management services.

Reform of Telephone Preference Service (TPS)

  • The TPS should be able to prevent unsolicited calls from overseas. A situation exists under which you can purchase such a service from their telephone provider, but a government sanctioned service such as TPS does not allow this.

- ends - 

Notes to editors:

  1. StepChange Debt Charity launched its Got their number: Ending the harm caused by nuisance calls and texts report and campaign on October 29, 2013. The full report can be found here.
  2. 3.2 million figure is from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,017 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th - 23rd September 2013.  The survey was carried out online.
  3. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). StepChange Debt Charity calculations based on population figures from the ONS.

Contact the the StepChange news team on:

Tel: 0207 391 4598

Mobile: 07985 404 153

Email: press@stepchange.org

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