Success! Company bosses will be held personally accountable facing a fine of up to £500,000, if their firm is found to be making nuisance calls.
It’s just over three and a half years since Which? launched the Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign. This campaign is undoubtedly our longest running of recent years. And with 460,000 supporters backing the campaign, it’s also one of our most popular.
So, on Sunday when we heard the news that the government will make directors of firms behind nuisance calls personally accountable, we hailed this win for both those who have backed our campaign and for the hundreds of thousands that are plagued by this modern menace.
Fines for directors
As some of you will know, director level accountability is a something we’ve been pushing for some time now. So as well as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) being able to issue fines of up to £500,000 to firms found to be making nuisance calls, by Spring 2017 the ICO will also be able to issue fines up to £500,000 to the people running them.
So far we’ve seen a government action plan to tackle the problem, a task force on consent to receive marketing calls, new powers for the ICO, the ability for the ICO to hit companies with bigger fines and rules requiring companies to display their number when making a call – ending those troublesome ‘Number withheld’ calls.
And in Scotland, we’ve also persuaded the Scottish Government to get to grips with tackling nuisance calls with a new commission beginning work this autumn.
Throughout this campaign, we’ve hassled, cajoled and constructively worked with three different Ministers to get these results. We’ve had MPs tabling questions and Bills in Parliament, helped parliamentarians run their own inquiry into the issue and persuaded a Select Committee chair – live on Radio 5 Live – to tackle this problem.
Not forgetting that our nuisance calls complaints tool has enabled thousands to register their complaints, issuing each individual complaint to the right regulator to take action.
Nuisance calls campaign
When I look back three and a half years, my main memory of launching this campaign were debates about whether we should do it at all. We were already part of a working group with the relevant regulators, government officials and industry leaders committed to tackling nuisance calls. There was a lot of debate about what we could really achieve. We couldn’t stop nuisance calls and texts, could we? So why try?
But the message from Which? members, supporters and the general public was strong and clear. Which? needed to get involved. We could see that while this would be a long battle, the existing talking shops weren’t working – and all those people responsible for the issue needed a big kick from Which? to demand that something must be done.
In the last year alone we’ve seen more fines for nuisance callers than ever. In the year to September, the ICO has issued fines totaling £1.5m to firms for more than 70 million calls and almost 8 million texts. The new rules targeting company directors should have a much bigger impact, and prevent the rogues who sidestep the rules by closing one business only to re-establish under new credentials to avoid ICO fines.
Next steps for nuisance calls
So is the campaign over? Certainly not. The fact remains that people are still pestered by this everyday menace.
Which? needs to make sure that these new rules are introduced effectively and that the ICO uses its new powers to crackdown on company directors spamming us with nuisance calls and texts.
We need to see what else can be done to deliver a significant drop in these calls and texts. A number of the telecoms companies are coming forward with plans to block these calls. So this could be an area that requires much more attention.
While today we’ll celebrate this win, tomorrow we get on with continuing to call time on nuisance calls and texts. We couldn’t have achieved as much as we have without so much backing from our supporters – so where do you think we should take the campaign next?