30/09/2015 09:35 BST | Updated 30/09/2016 06:12 BST

Solar Panels Firm Helms Fined Record £200k For Making 6 Million Nuisance Calls

A green energy company has been handed a record £200,000 fine after bombarding people with six million nuisance marketing calls.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) ruled that Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (Helms) breached marketing call regulations with its campaign which "made people's lives a misery".

ICO found that Glasgow-based Helms made more than six million calls as part of a massive automated call marketing campaign offering "free" solar panels.

Hundreds of people complained to the ICO, which received 242 complaints between October and December last year.

One complainant said they had been waiting for news of a terminally ill family member and could not ignore the phone, and felt powerless against the automated calls.

Another said the calls brought back memories of the morning phone call when their young grandchild had died.

An organisation should have people's permission - which specifically names the company concerned - to make automated calls, but the ICO found this was not the case.

The company also admitted it did not even know what the rules were, the ICO said.

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: "This company's ignorance of the law is beyond belief. It didn't even bother to find out what the rules were and its badly thought-out marketing campaign made people's lives a misery.

"The monetary penalty is for a significant amount because of the clear failings of the company, and the number of people affected by its deliberate and unlawful campaign.

"It should be a warning to other companies to think before they launch into a campaign."

The ICO said the fine was the largest it had ever issued for nuisance calls.

Its investigation also found that the calls were "misleading" because the solar panels were not necessarily free as implied by the recorded message.

The calls were often repeated and it was not always possible to connect to a person or to stop the calls by pressing an option button.

Home Energy & Lifestyle Management told the BBC that the campaign had stopped before the ICO investigation commenced and blamed another company for the issues raised.

In a statement from its lawyer the company told the BBC: "Helms had significant difficulty in fully co-operating with the ICO, owing to the failure of the third-party company to give any information to verify and explain the extent of the calls made."

It said the ICO had "seemingly disregarded" its representations and vowed to appeal, as well as taking action against the other company.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "A bumper £200,000 fine by the ICO should make nuisance callers sit up and take notice. We now also need to see senior executives held personally accountable if their organisation makes unlawful calls.

"With the Government looking at making caller line ID mandatory for marketing calls and increased action from regulators, telecoms providers must now play their part and use technological fixes to help cut off nuisance calls."