UK telemarketing rules

November 2023

How to avoid falling foul of the rules for marketing calls

Hardly a month goes by without the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fining another company for breaking the telemarketing rules under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

I’m sure all of us have been on the receiving end of a dodgy call. The favoured have you recently been involved in an accident? springs to mind.

Tackling nuisance calls is clearly a key priority for the Regulator, so how do bone fide businesses avoid being tarred with the same brush as the rogue operators?

6-point telemarketing guide

1. Service vs marketing calls

The definition of direct marketing covers any advertising or promotional material directed at particular individuals. Routine customer service calls don’t count as direct marketing.

But if you’re treating a call as a service call (and not applying the marketing rules under PECR) you need to be careful the script / call guide and what your call handlers say in practice doesn’t stray into the realms of trying to get customers to buy extra products, services or to upgrade or renew contracts.

A Trade Union was fined in 2021 for not screening numbers against the TPS. The Union didn’t believe its calls were direct marketing, but the ICO judged they were. Just because you believe you’re acting in good faith doesn’t mean you are. Marketing messages and service messages

2. Consent or Legitimate Interests?

Telephone numbers which can directly or indirectly identify an individual are personal data and fall under the scope of UK GDPR. For example, when using someone’s personal or work mobile, direct line business number or home landline you’ll need to comply with both UK GDPR and PECR.

You’ll need to decide whether to rely on consent or legitimate interests as your lawful basis under UK GDPR to make telemarketing calls to people. In brief:

  • Consent: make sure this meets the requirement to be a specific, informed, unambiguous indication of someone’s wishes made with a positive action (e.g. an opt-in). Keep records of consent (including, if relevant the script used) and make sure withdrawing consent is as easy as it is to give it. Consent – getting it right
  • Legitimate Interests: conduct a Legitimate Interests Assessment (LIA), keep a record of this assessment and be sure to provide people with a way to opt-out of future calls. Legitimate interests – is it legit? 

3. Live marketing calls to individuals

Below are the key rules to follow:

  • Don’t make marketing calls to anyone who’s told you they don’t want to hear from you. Keep a suppression file of all objections to telemarketing, and screen your campaigns against this internal ‘do not call list’.
  • Don’t make marketing calls to anyone registered with the Telephone Preference Service, unless you’ve collected consent to call them.
  • Say who’s calling – i.e. clearly state the name of your organisation.
  • Always display your number (or an alternative contact number).
  • Provide an address or freephone contact number if asked.
  • Make it easy to opt-out of further calls.

4. Remember sector specific rules

Stricter rules apply if you’re making calls about claims management or pension schemes. For claims management services you must have consent. For calls about pension schemes, you must have consent unless:

  • You are a trustee/manager of a pension scheme; or
  • A firm authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority; or
  • Your relationship with the individual meets strict criteria.

5. Automated calls

When using automated dialling systems which play a recorded message the rules are very strict. You must have:

  • Specific consent from individuals indicating they’re okay to receive automated calls; and
  • Calls must include your organisation’s name and contact address or freephone number; and
  • You must display your number (or alternative contact number).

In practice, these consent rules make genuine compliant automated calls very difficult.

6.  Marketing/sales calls to business numbers

The rules under the UK’s PECR are the same for calling businesses as they are for individuals.

  • You can call any business that has specifically consented to your calls. Or, and most commonly…
  • You can make live calls to any business number which is not registered with the TPS or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service (CTPS). But only if they haven’t objected to your calls and you’re not calling about claims management services.

The reason screening against both TPS and CTPS is necessary (if you don’t have consent), is sole traders and some partnerships may have registered with the TPS.

Applicable laws for telemarketing

PECR gives us the rules for telemarketing calls in the UK and the ICO has published telemarketing guidance. As well as complying with PECR you should comply with UK GDPR for your handling of personal data.

The rules differ in other countries, so check local laws if your telemarketing extends to calling people in other territories. Many countries have a ‘do not call’ register similar to the Telephone Preference Service.

There are also specific rules under PECR for email marketing messages, see UK email marketing rules.