News Focus: Enforcement - DM bodies bare their teeth

At the end of a year in which the authorities have tightened the screws on direct marketing poor practice, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is baring its teeth, telling a third member that it is to be booted out.

And the industry body plans in 2007 to accelerate the speed with which it clamps down on members that drag their feet in completing annual compliance questionnaires.

The move follows the expulsion in July of M-Tech Computers and Bite and reflects a toughening in the DMA's stance against non-compliance. It had never thrown out a member before.

Eight other companies were also served notice last month that their memberships would be terminated. They managed to provide evidence of their compliance to the Direct Marketing Authority by November 21 and were let off at the eleventh hour.

One additional member failed to respond adequately and was given 14 days to appeal. It could not be named during that process, which was underway as Direct Response went to press.

Referral to the DM Authority last month of all nine companies came after many warnings from the DMA's compliance unit, and no response to a final ultimatum. The DM Authority is an independent body set up by the DMA, and chaired by John Bridgeman, to adjudicate in possible cases of breach of its Code of Conduct.

"We are keen to show that we take the Code seriously and that we do something if people don't comply," said a DMA spokeswoman. The association's compliance manager, Neil Matthews, added that "kicking out has an effect on (companies') business".

Elsewhere, Pipex-owned Toucan Telecom is among several companies under investigation after falling foul of increasingly stringent enforcement by both the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and Ofcom.

The ICO was considering enforcement action at press time against Toucan and four home improvement companies for calling Telephone Preference Service-registered numbers. Failure to comply is a criminal offence. Offenders are subject to fines.

The move is a result of tougher approach from information commissioner Richard Thomas, who in 2005 installed the office's first head of investigations, Mick Gorill. His new unit has the power to carry out raids, search premises and prosecute.

Meanwhile, Ofcom has been investigating four companies, including Toucan and Carphone Warehouse, which have broken rules on silent calls. It could impose fines for the first time and the penalty would be £50,000 per breach. A decision was expected December 6.

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