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Reprieve for company directors as the Unsolicited Marketing Communications (Company Directors) Bill stalls

The fight against nuisance calls was set to receive another weapon in its arsenal with the introduction of the Unsolicited Marketing Communications (Company Directors) Bill 2016-17.

The Private Member's Bill, introduced by Patricia Gibson MP, was to amend the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/2426) (PECR); empowering the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to fine directors whose companies send out unsolicited marketing communications in breach of the PECR.

As a result of the General Election and the dissolution of Parliament however, the Bill now languishes inactive with no second reading planned for the foreseeable future.

The Bill was introduced on 13 September 2016 as a response to the currently less than satisfactory situation where companies that have been fined then fail to pay. Many limited liability companies have instead been opting for bankruptcy only to appear again under another name. Figures provided by the ICO demonstrate that of the £2.7 million issued in penalties to companies, only a fraction of these have been paid with £2.26 million still outstanding.

One of the biggest fines issued by the ICO was to Prodial Ltd for £350,000. The company was responsible for over 46 million automated calls to individuals over the course of a few months. Since being hit with the fine, the company was put into voluntary liquidation by one its directors, indicating the uphill struggle faced by the ICO in recouping fines. 

The Bill itself would grant the ICO the right to penalise a company director with fines of up to £500,000 and for companies with multiple directors, each would face personal liability for any fines meted out by the ICO for nuisance calls. This prevents the matter from being one which is simply delegated to others, but puts the onus on those on the board to ensure that their company is complying.

The ICO have demonstrated their willingness to take action against offenders, giving out fines to companies including Brighter Homes Solutions Limited who were fined £50,000 for making nuisance calls to people who had expressly stated they did not wish to receive communications, and Keurboom Communications Ltd who received a fine of £400,000 after having made 99.5 million nuisance calls. The latter's fine represented a record for the ICO, further signifying the ICO's drive to punish and stamp out such behaviour.

Although the ICO is continuing to exercise powers in tackling nuisance calls, making the introduction of the Member's Bill highly apt, its fate is not yet known. The stalling of the Bill is likely to cause consternation amongst those seeking greater punishment for nuisance callers and whilst it offers somewhat of a reprieve for directors - for now anyway - companies should remain wary of the growing calls of discontent of the public and government relating to nuisance calls. The ICO is likely to continue to respond to such anti-social behaviour with an ever growing level of fines. The Bill may remain inactive for now but companies should remain ever vigilant should the Bill be reintroduced again in future. 

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2017. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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