Scottish Green Deal firm fined record £200,000 for nuisance calls

Solar panelsA Scottish firm approved by the UK government as green energy advisers has been handed a record fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for making millions of nuisance telephone calls.

Cambuslang-based Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELM) received the penalty after making six million nuisance cold calls over three months as part of a massive automated call marketing campaign offering ‘free’ solar panels.

The ICO ruled that the firm “recklessly” broke marketing call regulations and “made people’s lives a misery”. The fine was the largest it has issued for nuisance calls.

HELM is listed as one of the authorised assessors by the Department of Energy and Climate Change as part of the Green Deal initiative, the government’s flagship energy household efficiency programme.

An organisation should have people’s permission, which specifically names the company concerned, in order to make automated calls, but the ICO found this wasn’t the case, with the company admitting it didn’t even know what the rules were.

In just over two months, from October to December 2014 the ICO received 242 complaints. One complainant stated they were waiting for news of a terminally ill family member and couldn’t ignore the phone, and felt powerless against the automated calls. Another talked of the calls bringing back memories of the morning phone call when their young grandchild had passed away. Another said they felt like their home had been invaded as the answer machine filled up with calls from the company.

The calls were often repeated and it was not always possible to connect to a person or to stop the calls by pressing an option button.

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “This company’s ignorance of the law is beyond belief. It didn’t even bother to find out what the rules were and its badly thought out marketing campaign made people’s lives a misery. The monetary penalty is for a significant amount because of the clear failings of the company, and the number of people affected by its deliberate and unlawful campaign.

“It should be a warning to other companies to think before they launch into a campaign. Direct marketing campaigns can be run within the law with a little thought and there’s plenty of advice available to companies in the ICO’s website.”

The investigation found that the calls were also misleading because the solar panels were not necessarily free as implied by the recorded message.

HELM, based at Cambuslang Investment Park, said the campaign had stopped before the ICO investigation commenced and blamed another company for the issues raised.

In a statement from its lawyer, the company said: “HELM had significant difficulty in fully co-operating with the ICO, owing to the failure of the third-party company to give any information to verify and explain the extent of the calls made.”

It said the ICO had “seemingly disregarded” its representations and vowed to appeal, as well as taking action against the other company.

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