Shock court ruling gives phone pests the right to annoy us all
Fed up with nuisance calls and texts? The situation could get worse after a judge overturned a fine on one of the biggest culprits, reports Simon Read
The curse of texts and telephone calls from unscrupulous companies offering to help consumers make claims for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) looks set to worsen. The cold callers who contact millions of us without permission have been given a massive boost with the news that one of the biggest culprits has overturned a fine imposed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
Last November, the bosses of Tetrus Telecoms – Chris Niebel and Gary McNeish – were ordered by the ICO to pay a penalty of £440,000 after the watchdog said the firm had "plagued the public with millions of unlawful spam texts over the past three years". The investigation included raids at the company's premises in Stockport in August 2011, and at the Manchester home of Mr Niebel in February last year.
Evidence gathered by the regulator revealed that Tetrus was using unregistered pay-as-you-go SIM cards to send out 840,000 illegal text messages per day, which raked in between £7,000 and £8,000 per day for the firm. The ICO said it had received more than 400 complaints about spam texts linked to Tetrus.
The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said at the time: "The two individuals made a substantial profit from the sale of personal information. They knew they were breaking the law, and the trail of evidence uncovered by my office highlights the scale of their operations."
It was the first time that a telemarketing company had been caught and fined in this way, but there have been several more incidents this year. Most notably, the Swansea-based business featured in the BBC's fly-on-the-wall documentary The Call Centre was fined £225,000 following more than 2,700 complaints about calls between May 2011 and December 2012.
The business operates under the name Save Britain Money and is led by Neville "Big Nev" Wilshire. Its Nationwide Energy Services was hit with a £125,000 penalty, while its PPI claims manager We Claim You Gain was fined £100,000. Mr Wilshire, who earns more than £1m a year, uses such catchphrases as "smile as you dial" to encourage his 700 staff to make 1.5 million unwanted calls a year selling boilers or PPI claims services.
The battle to tackle rogue callers looked positive until last week when, in a shock move, bosses at Tetrus had their fine overturned at a tribunal. The panel of three judges ruled that while Tetrus had broken the law for financial gain, its calls had not caused substantial distress to recipients.
A spokesperson for the ICO said: "This is a disappointing result, particularly when the tribunal recognised that Mr Niebel and his company ... had been engaged in sending unwanted text messages on an industrial scale. We are now looking to appeal the decision to the upper tribunal."
The consumer group Which? has been leading a campaign against spam texts and calls. Its executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: "We are disappointed in the outcome of this case and concerned it could undermine future enforcement. Unwanted calls and texts are not just a nuisance, they are making people's lives a misery.
"The Government must change the law to make it easier for regulators to crack down on companies who break the rules, and lower the threshold so regulators can take action without having to prove that calls are causing substantial distress."
The Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, Mike Crockart, hopes to force the Government to act. He published a Private Member's Bill this week that would update the law to give the ICO more powers to tackle unwanted calls and texts. The Bill also attempts to reform the way in which personal data is traded.
Mr Crockart said: "It is crucial that we clarify the current legislation on consent. Consumers need to be aware where and when they allow companies to contact them for marketing purposes. All too often, companies use complicated language so people do not know what they have consented to."
He said his proposed law would simplify the language used in consent boxes and require companies making calls to prove from where consent has been obtained.
"Regulators must also be able to deter nuisance calls through effective enforcement and realistic regulations," he added. "As was shown through the Tetrus case, current legislation makes it too difficult for regulators. We need to shift the balance of proof on to those unscrupulous companies causing misery to families."
The Bill will get its second reading next Friday and Which? is supporting it. Mr Lloyd said: "We want to strengthen the law on how our data is used, including a time limit on marketing consent. We also want to see regulators given more powers."
The call centre run by 'big nev' wilshire was fined £225,000 following more than 2,700 complaints
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour
- 1 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 2 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
- 5 Cocaine and cannabis haul hidden in Vatican car seized by French police
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
iJobs Money & Business
£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...
To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...
To £85,000 + banking benefits: Saxton Leigh: You will be expected to carry out...
Up to £90,000 + benefits: Saxton Leigh: Credit Risk Audit Manager required to ...
Day In a Page
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000