Northumberland Gazette lands major victory on nuisance calls

MP Sir Alan Beith, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham and Gazette editor Paul Larkin at the Stop Nuisance Robocalls petition handover at Westminster last summer.
MP Sir Alan Beith, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham and Gazette editor Paul Larkin at the Stop Nuisance Robocalls petition handover at Westminster last summer.

A Northumberland Gazette campaign to stop nuisance robocalls has played a key role in a change in the law, which has been announced today.

Currently, firms can only be punished for cold-calling if the Information Commissioner can prove a call caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’.

But from Monday, April 6, that legal requirement is to be removed and it will now be up to the ICO to assess when a serious contravention has taken place.

Last July, the Gazette met Information Commissioner Christopher Graham at Westminster to hand over our 2,000-name petition and readers’ stories gathered in our Stop Nuisance Robocalls campaign, which was launched after a torrent of late-night automated calls left residents across Northumberland angry, upset and confused.

Mr Graham said the robocalls dossier, featuring Gazette reports, comments from our Facebook site and the petition, would help towards imposing tighter regulations on companies which continuously flout the law, describing it as ‘exhibit A in the response I am going to be making to the Government consultation on changing the law’.

Today, he reiterated his praise, saying: “The people of north Northumberland and the Northumberland Gazette should be patting themselves on their back. This very welcome change has been a long time coming, but in the end the evidence from citizens and consumers was overwhelming, so it’s a victory all round.

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“When the Gazette editor came down and I met with him and Sir Alan Beith and he handed over the petition, I said ‘this is exhibit A for the business case we will put in to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’.”

Gazette editor Paul Larkin was delighted the campaign had been influential in changing the law.

“This is great news for all the readers who bombarded our Facebook page after that spate of automated calls in the middle of the night. They were furious and we quickly realised that there was a real strength of feeling that something needed to be done to tighten the law to block these wicked calls,” said Mr Larkin. “Some of the stories we published were heart-wrenching as the lives of elderly or vulnerable members of our community were being wrecked by the phonecalls. Just imagine how you would feel if you were elderly and living alone and the phone rang several times during the night – night after night.

“We are pleased the campaign influenced the decision-makers and that the law will now be tightened. We hope this helps the people of Northumberland and those all over the country who have been plagued by unwanted calls.

“Thank you to all those who signed our petition or left messages on Facebook – they were all passed on to the Information Commissioner, who has since done a sterling job. This is a great example of the way local newspapers can make a difference in their communities. I would also like to acknowledge the support of our MP Sir Alan Beith and thank him for setting up our meeting with the Information Commissioner.”

Sir Alan added to the congratulations, saying: “The Information Commissioner has clearly listened to the evidence the Gazette editor and I put forward at our meeting with him and Ministers have acted to lower the threshold at which action can be taken against companies making these calls.

“I am particularly pleased that the legal requirement that means firms can only be punished if the Information Commissioner can prove a call caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ is to be removed.”

Our campaign received cross-party support and was backed by charities, businesses and individuals, all of whom were sick and tired of nuisance calls. One pensioner told the Gazette that the calls, which she received two or three times a week, were ‘ruining her life’ and making her ill.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has the power to impose a civil monetary penalty of up to £500,000 for the most serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, such as by making nuisance calls without permission.

OTHER RELATED STORIES:

Robocalls remain a blight on all our daily lives, help us stamp them out (January 16, 2014)

Take action: What we want you to do and what we will do (January 16, 2014)

Political parties back our campaign to stamp out nuisance cold-callers (January 24, 2014)

Our guide to help you stop unwanted calls (January 24, 2014)

How do the companies get your details? (January 24, 2014)