Solar firm hit with record fine for nuisance calls

Glasgow-based residential solar company Home Energy & Lifestyle Management (Helms) has received a record £200,000 fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after being found guilty of making automated nuisance calls.

A decision released by the ICO this morning said that Helms had been found to have “deliberately and recklessly” breached marketing regulations, making more than 6 million automated marketing calls offering “free solar panels” that flouted European Commission privacy directives.

Helms, which was an official solar supplier under the now defunct Green Deal funding initiative, was the subject of 242 complaints during a two-month period between 2 October and 12 December 2014, prompting an investigation.

The company has been found guilty of a “serious contravention” of the European Commission’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) 2003, which forbids the use of an automated calling system to make recorded, direct marketing calls if a person has not previously given their consent to being communicated with.

Evidence provided by the ICO revealed that it originally addressed Helms on 12 February to remind the company of its obligations under the PECR before receiving a response a week later, confirming that the company would not be running a similar campaign.

However the ICO found steps taken by HELM to prevent nuisance calls to be insufficient, to which the company replied that it was not aware of other PECR regulations applying to automated marketing calls of such a nature.

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said Helms’ “ignorance of the law is beyond belief”, adding: “It didn’t even bother to find out what the rules were and its badly thought out marketing campaign made peoples' lives a misery."

“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,” Eckersley added.

The company now has until 28 October 2015 to pay the fine, which will be reduced to £160,000 if it is received by the Commissioner before 27 October 2015.