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With the economy balanced on a knife edge and Brexit looming, does the TPS have a future?

With General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) already in place and becoming enforceable in May 2018, some elements of the marketing community are in panic, with numerous high profile brands falling foul of the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) incurring hefty fines. Some companies, attempting to re-permission prospects through e-mail marketing, have disregarded previous legislative guidance including PECR 2003, in their attempts to secure the widest possible legitimate audience.

These firms activities, in many cases, are relatively understandable in view of the millions of pounds of investment and countless man-hours spent in attracting these customers and potential future customers, yet the law is the law and must be followed. Following the law however, at least that which may be contained within the UKs GDPR guidance and new e-privacy directive, may sound the death knell for the UKs Telephone Preference Service (TPS), the central opt our register for consumers who do not wish to receive unsolicited telephone calls.  

Previously the remit of the Office of Communications (OFCOM), the TPS was passed to the ICOs oversight earlier this year and has been managed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) on behalf of the regulator since 1998.  Currently worth an estimated £3million over 5 years, the ICO issued a Prior Information Notice (PIN) for the TPS concession in April of this year, both to generate interest ahead of the tender being issued and to better inform its specification.

It has now come to light that as a result of the ICO work on the e-privacy directive due next year, the process has been paused whilst the ICO formulates advice on whether the UK telemarketing industry continues to use an Opt-Out Register, as the TPS currently stands, or we move to an “Opt-In” and full “Consent” based culture for all live telemarketing activity.

Numerous legislative changes have taken place since April 2014, and the ICO has issued fines totalling almost £2m as a direct result of rogue companies non-compliance with the requirement for TPS screening.  Some joined up thinking with OFCOM and the Persistent Misuse guidelines, released with little fanfare in December 2016,  look set to increase the frequency and severity of punishment for offenders, including those organisations and individuals who were previously operating through loopholes.

Whilst this all looks like a glowing commendation for the TPS and its work, and insiders believe the DMA will re-win the contract, the current system and management has long been the subject of criticism from users and consumers. Indeed, in March this year, the current head of the ICO Elizabeth Denham pledged to look into the legacy data contained by the register and how the register currently manages churn in the context of Data Protection Act, so its’ future is far from certain.

What is clear however, is that how the ICOs balances consumers interests with the those of the wider UK economy will be under intense scrutiny as we approach May 2018. 



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