CPS Advisory Limited, a Swansea-based advice company, has been fined £130,000 from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for making over 100,000 calls to people without lawful authority between 11 January 2019 and 30 April 2019.
At the beginning of last year, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (PECR) was amended in order to protect savers from pension cold calls, which often lead to individuals falling victim to pension scams and ultimately losing their pensions.
Under the PECR, in order to lawfully make a pensions-related call to an individual, the organisation calling must be a trustee or manager of a pension scheme, or a firm authorised by the FCA, and the recipient must either consent to receive the call or expect to receive such a call due to their existing relationship with the organisation.
The ICO satisfied itself that CPS did not comply with any of the above conditions, in relation to any of the 106,987 calls made, and as such issued a fine of £130,000. The PECR gives the ICO the power to issue fines of up to £500,000.
The ICO noted in its reasoning for awarding the fine that the calls made by CPS represented “a significant intrusion into the privacy of the recipients of such calls” and said that implementing a fine was an “opportunity to reinforce the need for businesses to ensure that they meet the strict criteria to engage in such activities and are only telephoning consumers who want to receive these calls.”
As Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations explains, “unwanted pension calls can cause real distress and even significant financial hardship to often vulnerable people, who can end up losing their hard-earned pension pot to scammers“. Pension scams have also been a particular focus of the Department of Work and Pensions over the last couple of months, after they launched an investigation in July into what can be done to prevent them. This investigation will form part of a three-stage inquiry which will examine the impact of pension freedoms and protecting pension savers.
This enforcement action clearly outlines the need for pensions professionals, and other advisory companies, to ensure that they understand PECR and are complying with it.
The issuing of such a large fine will also be a welcome intervention for those concerned about the rise in pension scams, particularly now that data has been released demonstrating a sharp rise in “red flag” pension transfers taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, whilst coming down hard on those still engaging in cold-calling is a step in the right direction, more must be done to prevent pension scams, particularly since many scams do not necessarily arise from a cold call.