Solar industry warned over compliance with looming EU data consumer contact changes

Solar installers in the UK have been warned to make sure they comply with changes to EU data law and the Information Commissioner Office’s (ICO) data enforcement of it, or risk being heavily penalised.

The forthcoming EU-led data law will tighten up consumer opt-in consent levels and make companies liable for any data errors made by third-party telemarketing agencies or data suppliers. This includes breaching regulations over cold-contacting potential customers who have not opted in to receive communications.

Under the new laws, which are set to be published in full by the end of March 2016, both the client and third-party contractor will be subject to fines should any breaches occur. This would mean that any solar installer using a lead generation firm would have to ensure that leads are being sourced in a compliant fashion or face penalties.

Proof of opt-ins and permission consent will also have to be provided by brand owners in any dispute as the ICO attempts to tighten up regulations on the back of a number of large-scale cold-calling incidents in recent months.

According to the new regulation, consent must be freely given, specific, informed and representative of an “explicit indication of a consumer’s wishes”.

The changes come amidst a near doubling in size of the ICO, which is to work alongside communications regulator Ofcom on a crackdown of bad contact practice. In September Glasgow-based installer Home Energy & Lifestyle Management was hit with a record £200,000 fine after being found guilty of making millions of automated marketing calls offering free solar panels.

Dene Walsh, operations and compliance director at Verso Group, said that while the EU is to provide a two-year window in which to prepare, consumer databases would require “a lot of work” with the need to seek upgraded content permission. “For those with large databases time is already starting to run out,” Walsh said.

In a blog late last month, ICO intelligence hub manager Andrew Stevens warned of its crack down and said that fines of up to £500,000 could be distributed for serious offences.

"Sometimes companies aware of the law wrongly trust that the lists of names and numbers they buy come with the right permissions to make marketing calls.

"That mistake, and lack of due diligence in checking exactly what they are buying, results in companies calling people on the TPS, without consent," Stevens wrote.