Skip to navigationSkip to content
A woman poses with the SoftBank Mobile Corp's robot-shaped mobile phone "Phone Braver 815T PB" at the International Tokyo Toy Show in Tokyo
Reuters/Toru Hanai
“Are you happy with your current energy provider?”
DO NOT CALL

Robocallers are finally being fined into oblivion in the UK

Joon Ian Wong
By Joon Ian Wong

Technology Reporter

Robocallers in Britain, beware. The UK’s privacy watchdog, known as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has issued its biggest-ever fine for automated nuisance calls. A company called Keurboom Communications was slapped with a £400,000 ($517,000) penalty yesterday, after making nearly 100 million robocalls that triggered more than 1,000 complaints. Keurboom is closing shop as a result; it was placed in voluntary liquidation after the fine.

This isn’t the first time the ICO has dealt a death blow to an aggressive robocaller. The previous penalty record was held by a firm called Prodial, which spammed people’s phones with a “staggering” 46 million robocalls, according to the ICO. Prodial received a £350,000 penalty last February. It, too, went into voluntary liquidation after the fine was issued.

What are robocallers so keen to pitch? Overwhelmingly, automated calls make offers of savings on energy bills, according to complaints received by the ICO. Accident claims, debt management, and even oven-cleaning services also appear in the list of popular robocaller topics. Bizarrely, some calls are just silence, and at least 17 people were robocalled with a pitch to sell them a call blocker.

Type of robocallComplaints
Energy Saving and home improvements11,997
Accident claims1,377
Energy Supply1,214
None of the above659
Competition496
Debt management398
Banking211
Silent / No answer201
PPI121
Oven cleaning109
Insurance (including car, life and home)73
Broadband, phone, TV or other telecoms services56
Lifestyle surveys32
Gambling23
Call Blockers17
Health17
Adult content16
Computer scams12
Payday Loans10
Charities9
Pensions5
Holidays1
Source: Information Commissioner’s Office, UK. For Jan-March 2017.

The British government recently relaxed rules about nuisance marketing, freeing the ICO to go after more robocallers and spammers. The old rules required the regulator to prove that the calls caused ”substantial damage and substantial distress,” a threshold that was removed in April 2015.

The ICO can issue a maximum fine of £500,000. Based on spammers’ continued enthusiasm for robocalls, that limit will be hit sooner rather than later.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.