Complaints over cold-calling and spam texts rose more than 40% last year, figures showed today.

More than 7,000 complaints were received by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in 2011/12 under the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations (PECR), which govern electronic marketing.

Key Points

  • More than 7,000 complaints were received by ICO last year
  • Figures up from less than 5,000 in 2011
  • ICO can fine cold callers up to £500,000

Fewer than 5,000 complains were received the previous year.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham says: "Last year the ICO gained tough new powers to tackle unsolicited marketing calls and texts, including the power to impose a penalty of up to £500,000 on the worst offenders."

"We are currently working to identify the operators responsible. The ICO has executed search warrants at a number of sites across the UK linked to companies we believe are breaking the law.

"We have also set up an online reporting mechanism on our website that allows people to report any marketing texts or calls from unidentified senders."

Until this year, the ICO did not have suitable legal powers to act. While it can now impose fines of up to £500,000, the ICO says enforcing the rules is not easy given the vast amounts of money companies which flout the rules stand to make.

Cold-callers ignoring consumers' wishes

But a Panorama investigation on Monday claimed a Government-regulated service intended to allow people to block cold callers was being ignored by some telemarketing companies.

The BBC current affairs programme found despite thousands of complaints from the public being lodged with the Information Commissioner, there have not been any fines imposed on offending companies for at least 18 months.

Around 17.5 million phone numbers are registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), a scheme designed to prevent UK-based companies from making unwanted cold calls.

Industry rules say telemarketing firms should crosscheck their databases to ensure that people who have asked not to be cold called are left in peace.

But Mike Lordan at the Direct Marketing Association, which runs the TPS, told Panorama that some companies were ignoring the rules.

Up to three billion marketing calls are received by UK households each year, Panorama reported.