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Can we cold call other businesses?

Cold calling (or unsolicited telemarketing) is a very popular form of marketing and has been around for generations. It is a direct approach to others that you believe may be interested in buying your products or services.

In the very early days, it was common practice to reach for the telephone directories, pick up the phone and start calling. For business numbers, you may remember the Yellow Pages.

However, times have changed and we now have specific laws that apply to almost all types of direct marketing, called the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, thankfully abbreviated to PECR 2003.

What are the rules?

PECR dictates what you can and can’t do when it comes to direct marketing, such as through electronic means, email, text or social media. The regulations also address telemarketing.

The rules on telemarketing are reasonably simple and tell us that we can’t cold call people who have indicated in some way that they don’t want us to- or for claims management services or pensions, in certain circumstances.

The Telephone Preference Service

They also say that we can’t call numbers which have been registered with the Telephone Preference Service, (TPS). The TPS is free and is designed to prevent unwanted marketing calls. Anyone looking to do a telemarketing campaign should check that any numbers they are calling are not registered with the TPS, otherwise it could cause them serious problems.

Complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office

Many of the investigations undertaken by the Information Commissioner’s Office (the ICO) are as the result of complaints from people registered with the TPS, but who have then received unwanted marketing calls.

The ICO enforce the PECR rules and have serious teeth when it comes to their powers, including fines for the offending companies of up to £500,000 and the same for the company directors. Failure to pay such fines can also have serious consequences and involve the Insolvency Service and director disqualifications.

Indeed, some 36 directors have been disqualified since 2017.

The Corporate Telephone Preference Service

The TPS only protects individuals from unwanted calls, does that mean we are able to cold call businesses without concern? The simple answer is “no”. There is a similar service to the TPS for businesses, which is the CTPS, the Corporate Telephone Preference Service.

Whilst the CTPS has been around for many years, it has always been of limited interest to businesses and indeed the ICO. Like the TPS, it is a blocking service for unwanted marketing calls and is available to limited companies, public limited companies and Scottish partnerships. There have been very few cases concerning breach of the CTPS and the ICO has always appeared to take a more relaxed approach to B2B marketing.

Changes to how the CTPS is policed

However, that changed this year when the ICO took enforcement action for breaches of the CTPS.

They announced in May that they had issued fines totalling £180,000 to two companies that made more than 480,000 unlawful marketing calls to businesses signed up to the CTPS.

Ice Telecommunications Limited received a fine of £80,000 and UK Direct Business Solutions Limited were fined £100,000. The ICO making it very clear that the CTPS is not to be ignored.

The position therefore is that if you do wish to cold call other businesses, then make sure you know what the rules are and that you are not falling foul of the CTPS.

Be compliant while staying commercial

As a specialist solicitor dealing with ICO enforcement cases the main issue that I almost always see when representing companies in trouble with the ICO, is that they have not paid enough attention to PECR 2003.

It is imperative that you consider the rules before you embark on any outbound direct marketing to make sure you are doing so compliantly. Make sure you plan your marketing from the outset and that your staff are properly trained on the rules. Because if it goes wrong, the ICO will ask a lot of questions, which include what planning and training you have done.

I offer up-to-date PECR training for any organisation dealing with direct marketing.

For more information, please contact Andrew at or on tel: 07907 308773.


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