Since 6 April 2015, changes to the law have given the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) enhanced powers to take action against companies making nuisance marketing calls and sending spam messages.
Previously, the ICO could only issue a civil monetary penalty if it could prove that the company engaged in nuisance marketing activity had caused 'substantial damage or substantial distress'. That requirement has now been removed and the ICO just has to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
The Regulations permit companies to make marketing phone calls without a consumer's prior permission but they must first check the Telephone Preference Service to make sure the individual has not opted out of receiving marketing calls. Permission is required before sending marketing text messages and companies should always provide details of how the recipient can opt out of receiving any future messages.
In 2014, the ICO received 175,330 reports of nuisance calls and texts and issued £360,000 worth of penalties between April 2014 and March 2015. The level of penalties will no doubt increase now that the rules have been relaxed.
Anyone who receives unsolicited communications of this kind can notify the ICO directly (see https://ico.org.uk/concerns/marketing/) or report the texts to their network operator by sending them, free of charge, to 7726.
ICO guidance on carrying out direct marketing can be found here.
Failure to adhere to the rules can lead to substantial fines which are publicised on the ICO website.
In 2018, enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation ('GDPR') will begin. This will provide potentially draconian fines where firms transgress its rules, which include the need to obtain 'infomed consent' for the targeting of marketing messages via email