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Five companies that tried to sell elderly and vulnerable people unwanted insurance products via 1.9mn illegal and unsolicited marketing calls have been fined a total of £590,000 by the UK data watchdog.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said on Thursday that it had fined and issued enforcement notices to SGS Home Protect Ltd, Cover Appliance Ltd, F12 Management Ltd, House Hold Appliances 247 Ltd and RHAP Ltd for making nuisance calls.
The penalties are the largest imposed to date by the regulator in its two-year long campaign against rogue operators.
“We’ve heard of harrowing stories of people being hounded and feeling forced into handing over bank details for unwanted and unnecessary insurance,” said Andy Curry, head of ICO investigations, adding that the elderly were being “deliberately targeted because they’re seen as easy pickings by unscrupulous callers”.
The regulator’s move is part of a wider crackdown on companies using pressurised sales tactics to sell insurance policies for white goods, such as washing machines and fridges, to people who in many cases already have cover or do not need the products.
Many of those affected had taken steps to block nuisance calls by registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). The fines resulted from detailed investigations by the ICO, assisted by intelligence from National Trading Standards.
Jonathan Young said he had spent months trying to recover payments of more than £2,000 made by his elderly parents to around a dozen companies after they were cold-called about insurance products they did not need. Two of those companies were fined on Thursday.
“Despite opting out of receiving marketing calls, my parents were bombarded with calls from companies selling insurance products,” he said. “They were often left confused about who was calling them and high pressure sales tactics led to them paying thousands of pounds for policies they didn’t need or really want.”
The watchdog issued the biggest fines — £200,000 each — to F12 Management and Cover Appliance for making 1,346,019 and 511,499 calls respectively to TPS registered numbers.
SGS Home Protect, Cover Appliance, F12 Management, House Hold Appliances 247 and RHAP could not be reached for comment.
Curry said registering with the TPS made it illegal for companies to call people without their consent. The watchdog encouraged “anyone who wants to block unsolicited marketing calls to either a landline or a mobile phone to sign up to this free service”, he added.
In the past two years, the ICO has issued a total of £1.45mn in fines to 16 companies for making nuisance calls, but consumer groups say penalties for rulebreakers need to be harsher.
James Daley, managing director of Fairer Finance, said: “Michael Winner used to say that a £65 fine was incredibly good value for driving in a bus lane and the small size of these fines means there’s a danger that firms will just see this as the cost of doing business.”
He praised the ICO’s doggedness but cautioned that taking retrospective action against companies felt “pointless, as the damage has been done”, with affected consumers powerless to get their money back.
In 2019, the Financial Conduct Authority, the top financial regulator, banned cold calling about pensions to combat rising levels of fraud.
The regulator has the power to issue fines of £500,000 to companies making calls from within the UK, and on Wednesday called on insurers to ensure their products were “providing fair value” to customers.
In May, the government announced it would extend the cold calling ban to all consumer financial services and products, and a consultation on the matter closes this month.