From this week, cold callers will have to display their numbers as part of a Government crackdown on nuisance calls which can be particularly distressing to the elderly or vulnerable.
Ian Anderson, Head of Regulatory Law at leading Leeds law firm Ison Harrison, said companies registered in the UK will have to display their numbers, even if call centres are abroad.
The move will make it easier for recipients to note down the numbers and report the companies to the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which has issued a series of heavy fines to those who have broken the rules.
But Mr Anderson said that many direct marketing businesses may fall foul of the legislation as they have not put adequate strategies in place.
He added: “Unsolicited calls are an invasion of privacy and can be particularly distressing to elderly and vulnerable people. The companies behind the calls will have to consider how they evidence compliance with the new regulations and defend themselves against complaints.
“There needs to be a balance between stopping persistent and long-term automated nuisance callers and allowing companies to engage in direct marketing. Through the introduction of this legislation, the Government is without doubt sending a clear message to any rogue traders. The Government stance is that it will not hesitate to take action against companies who are subject to complaints.”
Companies withholding their identities or persistently breaking the rules can be fined up to £2m by Ofcom and a further £500,000 by the ICO if they do not obey the rules.
Mr Anderson said: “This change will make it easier for consumers to identify the legitimate companies and report the rogue operators to the relevant authorities.
“If a company is not doing anything wrong or is behaving responsibly then they should have nothing to fear, but should seek compliance advice.”
Mr Anderson added: “This amendment in legislation will not only improve consumer protection, making it easier for people to refuse and report unwanted marketing calls, but it will also ensure the ICO can investigate and take enforcement action against callers who persistently and deliberately break the rules.”
The ICO has issued fines totalling £895,000 to cold calling companies. Last year, the Government made it easier to fine nuisance callers by removing the need for consumers to prove that unwanted marketing calls were causing substantial distress and damage.
Organisations that work with the elderly and vulnerable have lobbied for action on unscrupulous cold callers because they can cause distress, particularly when so-called “silent calls” are received.
Mr Anderson said: “Now that it is possible for people to identify the number behind the call they’ve received, they are more likely to complain and that means more businesses are likely to face investigation. Companies in this market need to take steps to ensure they comply, or potentially face financially crippling fines.”
The crackdown was introduced after public consultation and discussions with the direct marketing industry. Citizens Advice has estimated that more than 800m cold calls are made every year, with 80 per cent of households receiving them.