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Direct Marketing Commission - Enforcing Higher Industry Standards

The Claims Advisory Group – complaints about direct marketing

July 12th, 2012

Complaints not upheld.

The Claims Advisory Group is a claims company which aims to provide a complete solution to clients who wish to instigate claims against financial companies for the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance policies. 

The two direct complainants to the DMC related to the failure of call centre staff to put a  ’Do Not Call’ marker on a customer’s number after being asked to do so, and to a call made to a person registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

As part of its investigation the DMC was briefed on the staff training and call management arrangements at The Claims Advisory Group (CAG). The DMC was informed of disciplinary action taken in relation to an agent responsible for calling the complainant, and follow up action that had led to further calls and, thus, to the complaint.  All agents were re-trained accordingly. The DMC saw nothing to suggest the complaint reflected a broader issue over customer service and call-handling.

The substance of the DMC investigation lay in questions around the sourcing of data (ie names and telephone numbers) and the action taken to cleanse data against the Telephone Preference Service file as is required in the DMA Code and in legislation for which the Information Commissioner’s Office has lead responsibility. 

The investigation found that CAG sourced the vast majority of its data from third party suppliers. CAG makes over 12 million calls a year seeking new clients. Over half of the calls made by CAG are now to mobile numbers. For the most recent three-month period CAG told the DMC how many names it had added to their ’Do Not Call’ master-list. These were people who had told the company they were not interested in the product and did not want to receive further marketing calls.

While CAG provided the DMC with extensive material relating to the due diligence they carry out, it became clear from the investigation that the company had historically relied on their suppliers’ compliance with contract conditions for a critical aspect of data-supply. This was whether the contact number was TPS registered and, as such, a number that should not be called, except in narrowly defined circumstances. It seemed CAG assumed data suppliers were cleansing data against TPS with the required frequency.

This was the core issue raised by one complainant; a TPS registrant who said he had not given any specific agreement to receive calls that would override his TPS registration.  It seemed there was genuine uncertainty over whether this was the case in this particular situation.

The DMC investigation did, however, result in CAG acknowledging that they had had over 400 complaints from the Telephone Preference Service over calls made in breach of registered preferences not to be contacted.

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CAG argued that this was an insignificant number of complaints in percentage terms relative to its volume of outbound calls. CAG also provided data on customer numbers and on the number of customers added to their ‘Do Not Call’ list. CAG also expressed concerns about the DMA and ICO guidance on the circumstances in which the public can give permission to calls from named parties to override TPS registration.

The DMC was unable to validate the CAG defence that most of the 400 complaints related to very new TPS registrants, and that calls to them were not in breach of rules that allow marketers up to 28 days before the registration should apply in full. Nor was the DMC able to test whether any of the consumers asking to be put on the CAG ’Do Not Call’ list were existing TPS registrants.

The DMC had advice from the TPS that no complaints are relayed to firms until after new registrants making a complaint have been on the register for a 28 day period. The DMC welcomed the acceptance by CAG that this seemed to imply that there were issues with data-cleansing by CAG suppliers. The DMC welcomed CAG’s decision to obtain their own TPS licence and to cleanse all data themselves against the TPS file on a weekly basis.

The DMC did not feel able to reach a decision based on the TPS numbers without a more detailed breakdown, the information from CAG regarding its changes in operational practice, and the uncertainty over complaints.  The DMC regretted that it was unable to evaluate CAG’s defence because CAG refused to share the relevant data as a result of legal advice it had received. 

The DMC therefore concluded that it was unable to uphold a breach of Code provisions related to compliance with TPS requirements or the Code provision relating to a member company’s responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers.

The issues around data-sourcing, compliance and best practice were thought to be particularly important in a situation in which a company is making around 12 million marketing calls, and a number of those called in a year are asking to go on a ‘Do Not Call’ list.

The DMC welcomed the action taken by CAG to deal with any issues over the quality of call handling and the action to secure a TPS licence and cleanse day themselves before its use. These actions and the management of data-suppliers were seen to be particularly important given the volume of calls being made to home phone numbers and to mobile handsets.

The DMC also noted suggestions from CAG on the future operation of TPS and the clarity of DMA guidance related to the TPS and circumstances in which a consumer can give an overriding opt-in to receive calls from named suppliers.

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