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MOJ flexes muscles with first Claims Management Fines

MOJ flexes muscles with first Claims Management Fines

The Claims Management Regultor, based at the Ministry of Justice has flexed it's muscles with the first financil penatly to be imposed under the new powers. The firm, 'The Hearing Clinic' was fined £220,000 for 'bombarding millions of people with nuisance calls'. This spectacular claim was based on 'hundreds of complaints' from members of the public, complaining about speculative calls about claims for noise induced hearing loss. 

Many of those called had subscribed to the Telephone Preference Service [TPS], which is an indication that they do not wish to receive such calls.

This is an example of the 'new sherrif in town' approach to regulating sucessful businesses that offend consumers. The other main regulator kicking up dust at present is RECC  - The Renewable Energy Consumer Code who also have wide ranging powers to fine or close down companies who offend the code, in particular those firms selling solar panels and finance to take advantage of the Feed In Tarrif [FIT]. Recent government reductions in the tarrif however have brought a black cloud over the entire industry and the future of the regulator, which is funded by it's membership.

The fine that was imposed is the first of a number of pending cases, which have been brought following the change in the law in December 2014 which introduced a new power to fine claims management companies astronomnical amounts.

The power is contained in the Conduct of Authorised Persons Rules which were published on 12th December 2014. Fines can now be imposed for a range of activities including;

  • Failure to comply with the rules
  • Failure to provide appropriate information to the Regulator
  • Being obstructive on an investigation
  • Failing to take out appropriate insurance

The Calculation of Financial Penalty.

This is turnover based, and limited to 20% of the turnover of companies with a turnover of £500k+. ( Smaller businesses are limited to fines of up to £100k).

The first step is to asses the nature of the breach or collection of breaches. There is a scoring system with Basic breaches scoring 1, Escalted scoring 2 and  Severe scoring 3.

Then the Regulator will consider the seriousness of the breach with Low ( 2) Medium (4) and High (6) categories.  For example, medium level of seriousness will involve breaches that have affected consumers or other organisations. with detrimiment to a group of consumers or limited numbers of other organisations, with potential for further or widespread detriminet if action is not taken. 

Other approaches

What the guidance does not point out is when these swinging fines should be applied. The enforcement guidance, also published in December 2014 points out that there is a range of other sanctions available to be considered including;

  • Advice where the authorised person has not acted deliberately or negligently
  • Letters of Warning 
  • Written Undertakings

If none of the above are deemed to be appropriate, then the business can be closed down on a temporary or permanent basis:

  • Variation Suspension or Cancellation of Authorisation.

Appeals

No penality can be imposed before the target is notified and given an opportungity to respond in writing. Once the sanction has been imposed, an appeal to the First - Tier tribunal ( Claims Management Services) is provided for and then to the Court of Appeal.

Jeremy has represented a number of high profile Claims Management Companies and Solar Panel Suppliers  -see for example Re Direct Assist . He is currently advising two national firms in respect of regulatory activity described in this blog article. In onc case the MOJ have provisionally assessed the fine at £850,000 and in other cases, claims in the region of £5m are anticipated.

For any advice and assistance for issues like these please do call Jeremy on 0844 2722322 or submit a comment below. Jeremy will come back to you at the earliest convenience.

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