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StepChange Debt Charity response to Nuisance Calls Action Plan

30 March, 2014

In response to the release by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of the Nuisance Call Action Plan, Peter Tutton, head of policy for StepChange Debt Charity, said:

“Today’s announcement is recognition that the government understands the urgent need to address the problem of nuisance calls and texts and we welcome Culture Secretary Maria Miller MP’s acknowledgment that these types of communication are more than just an annoyance and can cause harm in the form of stress and anxiety. However, the Action Plan both underestimates the potential harm to financially vulnerable consumers and potentially delays a necessary consumer protection.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the need to reduce the threshold for enforcement action by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). But the government has the opportunity to deliver this through the Consumer Rights Bill, and ensure better protections for consumers now.

“Our Got their number report found that 26.3m British adults had been offered high-interest credit products such as payday loans via unsolicited marketing calls or texts. For those in financial difficulty the offer of no questions asked credit can lead to harmful economic choices.

“Consumers have lost control of their personal information, a weak data protection regime means that it is too easy for firms to gain consent to pass consumers’ personal data on, while regulators lack both the power and resource to deter bad practice. We welcome the formation of the Which? led taskforce and are hopeful that it will deliver a package of measures that gives consumers control back over their personal information and reduces the unnecessary harm caused by nuisance calls and texts.”

StepChange Debt Charity believes there is a pressing case for government action and has outlined the following measures as central to addressing the problem of nuisance calls and texts:

Increased powers for regulators

  • 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. 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: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-231847
  3. StepChange Debt Charity’s ethos is to help the “can’t pays”, not the “won’t pays”, and does not condone debt avoidance. StepChange Debt Charity always aims to help its clients pay back what they owe, in a realistic timescale and manner that is suited to each individual’s situation.

Contact the the StepChange news team on:

Tel: 0207 391 4598

Mobile: 07985 404153

Email: press@stepchange.org

Follow our press team on Twitter: @StepChange