Northern Gas and Power fined £75,000 for ‘rude and aggressive’ nuisance calls during pandemic

One complainant from a busy care home said the calls were extremely disruptive to their business during the pandemic

A telemarketing firm with offices in Newcastle and Leeds has been fined for making tens of thousands of calls to numbers that had opted out of receiving marketing, causing disruption and anxiety during the pandemic.

Northern Gas and Power was fined £75,000 for a “serious contravention” of the Data Protection Act, with many of the calls described as “rude and aggressive”, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

“We repeatedly tell them we’re not interested, but they never stop”

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After a lengthy investigation the ICO ruled that Northern Gas and Power broke telemarketing rules around calling Telephone Preference System (TPS) and Corporate Telephone Preference System (CTPS) registered numbers.

TPS and CTPS are registers of people and businesses that have opted out of receiving telemarketing calls.

The ICO began looking into the firm in April 2020, taking into account complaints received from May 2019 up until the investigation’s conclusion in March 2021.

The ICO found dozens of complaints from business owners who had received numerous nuisance calls from Northern Gas and Power, often several times in the same day, with some of the calls described as “rude and aggressive”.

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This was despite being registered with the TPS and CTPS schemes.

In one report to the ICO, someone who took a call from Northern Gas and Power said the caller led them to believe “he was from Northern PowerGrid…Here to help us given Covid-19”.

One complainant said: “We have told this company several times before not to call us and remove us from their database, they are a nuisance.

“We even had an email from them confirming that they would stop calling us but it continues. They just ignore our request and keep calling us.”

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Another, in a complaint to the TPS, said they received “maybe three or four calls a day from NGP, every day”.

They said: “We repeatedly tell them that we’re not interested, but they never stop and then get rude when you won’t direct their call to the person in charge of the energy.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that more than 60,000 of the calls made from just one of Northern Gas and Power’s offices over a 14-month period were to people and businesses that had opted out of marketing calls.

While the investigation was ongoing, Northern Gas and Power claimed it had put in place a number of measures to prevent further breaches, but when the ICO checked for new complaints against the firm after the investigation was launched in April 2020 it found dozens.

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A claimant whose number had been registered with the TPS since 2005 said: “They are a [sic] energy supplier or broker, and when I said we do not want their service they hang up and call again the next day.

“When I have asked to be removed from their call list they hang up and call again the next day. We are a small but very busy care home, and do not wish to spend time with these calls especially considering these busy Covid times for us.”

Another, in February 2021, reported being called ‘more than five times a day’ despite writing to the firm twice to request their details be removed from call-lists.

‘Rude and aggressive’

Andy Curry, ICO head of investigations, told NationalWorld: "We received numerous complaints about this company. Many people told us the callers were rude and aggressive and made them feel annoyed, stressed and anxious.

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"This is what the ICO is here to do and where we find illegal practices we will always take action to protect the public, who have the right to not have their phone lines besieged with unwanted marketing calls."

A spokesperson for Northern Gas and Power said: “Northern Gas and Power has always respected the wishes of those businesses registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

“Regrettably, some businesses registered with the TPS were unwittingly contacted. We accept and have fully complied with the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) judgement and penalty for these legacy issues, working closely with them to ensure that the issues raised have been thoroughly addressed.

“We have carried out a full and thorough review and have since delivered improved training, as well as developing a bespoke software solution to ensure the TPS compliance standards and our customer service standards are met and adhered to effectively by all our employees.

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“We are confident that the solutions implemented completely address the historic issues and will prevent any potential future incident.

“We would like to thank the ICO for their support throughout this matter.”

‘Toxic’ culture

Last year an employment tribunal in Leeds ruled against Northern Gas and Power, after a former employee claimed he had been subject to harassment and abuse relating to his sexuality.

The tribunal heard that Dan Robson, an energy consultant who revealed that he was gay on an equalities monitoring form he filled out upon starting the role, was greeted with a shout of “great, there’s a f***ing bender in the office”, on his first day at the company’s Leeds office.

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The firm was ordered to pay Robson damages of £36,700 and to pay an additional fine of £18,353 for the “aggravating features” of the discrimination.

The employment tribunal panel found that the “culture” in the Leeds office “was accurately described . . . as toxic, involving daily use of racist, homophobic and antisemitic language, which some managers and senior employees actively engaged in treating as acceptable banter between friends and colleagues”.

At the time, Northern Gas and Power director Paul Barrett told the Times: “We have been recognised for our workplace culture through numerous awards and we take the job of supporting our staff very seriously.

“We strongly believe that the harassment the tribunal found to have taken place was an isolated issue and, in line with our zero-tolerance approach, all employees who took part are no longer employed.

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“The matters were not brought to the attention of our human resources or senior management team until after Mr Robson had left our employment and many of the specific examples were not disclosed to us until very late in the tribunal process.”

If you have received nuisance telemarketing calls despite being TPS or CTPS registered, or have information about any of the themes in this article, NationalWorld wants to hear from you - contact investigative report Ethan Shone at [email protected]

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