/ Technology

Win! Directors of nuisance calling firms face £500,000 fine

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?

Comments

Bit quick to claim a win. Last year the government announced people would be able to sell annuities, last week they decided against it. So until it happens there’s still a chance it might not.

And whilst it’s a welcome step, unless the ICO or whoever hands out the fines is actually prepared to use their powers, then this still won’t be a win for me.

The ICO have had the power to fine companies upto £500k for over a year, most fines are still less than £100k and many companies still manage to avoid paying them anyway,

In your piece you quote £1.5m in fines for 70 million calls and 8 million texts. That’s fractions of a penny per nuisance call. So I would suggest that even £500k isn’t enough.

That’s good news, but perhaps we should go further and push for directors to be dismissed (without receiving compensation) and banned from holding any senior positions in companies in future.

Why do we allow countless nuisance calls before action is taken whereas the Advertising Standards Authority sometimes acts as a result of a single complaint?

Furthermore, ‘up to £500,000’ is fairly meaningless, judging by the claims made for broadband speeds.

I suppose I should be happy, and at least I am getting many fewer nuisance calls than a few years ago.

It’s just another small step forwards. Fined directors should be disqualified from directorships as a greater disincentive to them criminal scams.

But will it tackle nuisance calls from abroad which hi-jack seemingly valid UK numbers? I doubt it.

The campaign against nuisance calls has to continue.

I totally agree as I am sick and tired of receiving calls from foreign countries, particularly India and the Far East. Also scams galore, one of which claimed to be from BT and gained access to my computer- never again, but so real and persuasive, they can be very clever. So watch out, nothing is safe.

Congratulations to Which? on a magnificent display of chest-pumping and own-trumpet-blowing. It’s a good result so far as it goes but it still leaves the biggie untackled. I mean the really nasty nuisance calls that are perpetrated by real criminals, not cowboy law clerks and boiler men; the people who try to invade your computer by trickery and empty your bank accounts, or clean out your life savings by pretending to be your bank and getting hold of your cards. At the moment these hard cases are completely untouchable because they call from abroad [or a spoof number] and only do it once to each victim. There has to be a technological solution and it’s time someone found it. I am extremely pleased to see that “a number of the telecoms companies are coming forward with plans to block these calls” and I look forward to seeing the details of this reported with same zeal as Which? uses for giving us the low-down on the latest gizmo launched at a trade show.

I have also had such calls from a man speaking with a foreign accent and claiming to be from BT trying to access my computer. No telecom company, internet provider or bank would ever make such calls. If it happens again, put the phone down right away.

If the fine only represents a few pence per nuisance call, then it just becomes a business expense. Directors are still not penalised – the company pays. If criminality is proven my suggestion elsewhere is a sentence for directors involved to be sent to a correction centre for a longish stay, but paid for by the individuals concerned to cover the costs of the centre plus a substantial profit. Phones in the cells for incoming nuisance calls only.

I would incidentally charge all criminals, with any means, to cover the costs plus for their incarceration.

I like your trumped up charges, Malcolm. “My object all sublime . . . I shall achieve in time: Let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime. And let each criminal pent . . . unwillingly represent . . . a source of innocent merriment, of innocent merriment”.

Fine ! Plus a mandatory prison sentence Fines are easily payable or the company etc. goes bankrupt and the fine is never paid Prison MUST be included

And the stocks…don’t forget the stocks. To put them in, of course, not the financial kind…

I UTTERLY AGREE LETS HAVE THE STOCKS BACK! WOULDN’T IT BE A GREAT WEEK-END GETTING AS MUCH ROTTEN FOOD ETC AND DOWSING THESE BA*****S.

It’s a welcome start, but I believe that some directors will close the company down then disappear or change their identity, then set up another company as they do in other trades. In my opinion the final solution is to ban cold calling altogether. If I want to purchase anything then I will approach the company concerned myself. I do not want them pestering me at all times of the day, every day. I also agree that the telecom companies could do more to block these calls but then they would not get the revenue from such calls. As to the calls about computer viruses etc, people need to be more sceptical about these calls . Do not fall for it. If you want something done, you contact the company concerned as this action puts you in charge.

Lets see if any fines get issued that amount to anything like a just punishment for the years of our lives wasted answering these pestilential calls. I agree with others there should be length bans on individuals holding directorships. How about a blanket ban on cold calling with people opting in to calls, but only after a personal visit to an office somewhere in the outer Hebrides where there is very restricted ferry service.

We should abolish unregulated capitalism because we need a global system based on the well being of humanity rather than the greed for profit

So run by corrupt and self-interested politicians then perhaps? You would think that when people are appointed to high positions of governmentand public office that would be on the basis of their past – education, competence, probity perhaps. Seemingly not always the case.

Fines- well some while ago – I don’t remember the details – the “fine” levied on a naughty company represented a few pence per nuisance call. They probably made a lot more money out of them than that, so no deterrent.

Check out a company called Prodial, its directors, liquidised companies, etc. Or search nuisance calls Brighton.

They liquidise their companies, dismiss themselves then start up again. Their money and assets are probably in partners names so good luck in getting any money out of them.

Until unsolicited calls are made completely illegal, they will never go away.

Hi Alfa, absolutely – the liquidating of companies when they’re slapped by a fine is exactly the type of thing making directors personally accountable is out to deal with. Phoenixing a company to avoid a fine becomes less of a problem.

Unsolicited calls made to people on the TPS are already illegal – the problem are companies who are breaking the law. That’s why measures such as director accountability are required to deal with these unscrupulous companies who are already law breaking.

Most of the penalties issued by ICO remain unpaid. This new rule will be equally ineffective.

After a decade of tweaking a failed regime, nuisance calls continue to increase.

The real issue, that is never discussed, is taking steps to stop these calls being made in the fist place.

Banning all unsolicited calls is also my view. As long as laws only tinker away at the edges, scammers will always find ways around them.

Which? does not support a total ban on cold calling as they say some people find telemarketing useful and not all telemarketing calls are unwanted. They have never managed to say who or what type of telemarketing.

Hi Ian, thanks for the feedback. Technological solutions to block nuisance calls at source is certainly an area for development.

Most goverment grants for people receiving benefits are driven by telemarketing

Not 100% on the name but an S7 switch can strip away all spoofed and withheld numbers, that’s how 999 always know the correct number. So the technology exists.

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Kevin says:
18 January 2017

If I can block certain incoming numbers on my mobile phone, why can’t telecoms companies be required to block numbers closer to source that surely can be seen to be sending out automated call traffic. Someone somewhere must be able to ‘see’ this activity if they are bothering to look. There just needs to be an incentive for them to act. Sadly unregulated capitalism will only sell you yet something else to remedy a situation created by deregulation in the first place.

Sheep says:
29 October 2016

A couple of years ago, I had a company from Wales ringing me some 5 to 6 times a day, I politely asked them to take me off their database but – yep you guessed it, so when they rang again I managed to keep them on the phone for about 25 minutes by not letting them get a word in. Eventually the big cheese come on the phone- and boy did I give him some verbal diarrhoea, that was so satisfying.
What I have done now to combat these calls is – A voice message on landline following on from the usual introduction that explains ” i am not interested in what you have to offer and, if I was I would make my own enquiries and – for anybody that knows me, please ring my mobile.
Funny how I don’t get any nuisance calls any more! !!!!

What would also help with reducing these nuisance calls, is that whenever a company takes a note of your contact details, that there is a requirement for a customer to agree for it to be held longer than the immediate enquiry.
That the customer also has to agree for the number to be passed onto associated companies. At the moment a customer has to remember to tell a company that they do not want their telephone no details stored. Often one does not remember to say this to the company operator before / after your query etc has been sorted.

I would suggest you registered on the TPS if it worked, which it doesn’t.

Another waste of time, the comanies will only use overseas tactics where the law has no grip. I get two to three phone calls every day from INDIA/PAKISTAN (Cold Calling) – You know why, there is no law against the people from making any phone call to you. This will only highten the calls as theses companies will use over seas services!

The law works if you find out who they are calling on behalf of as UK companies cannot hide behind offshore telemarketing companies.

Well done to all. Cold calls are the bane of our lives.

Now we should all refuse to engage with cold callers whether calling for commercial or even charitable causes.

George Farmer says:
31 October 2016

One of the new nuisance calling is making it look like a local call by using your local dialing code. You immediately think you are receiving a call from someone who knows you to find out its PPI or similar.

What I don’t understand is why I don’t get nuisance calls on my mobile phone other than a very occasional wrong number. I have had the same number for years and it is on a website, albeit not in a form that can be automatically ‘harvested’ and added to the lists that are sold for marketing purposes. I can only remember two nuisance calls, and they were from the same number and on the same day.

At one time I assumed that I was not targeted because I had a PAYG mobile that was rarely used for outgoing calls but after having had a contract for about three years and making many calls, I am still not being targeted. In contrast, I have had many thousands of nuisance calls to my landline number, which is in the phone book and registered with the TPS.

I know people who get more nuisance calls on their mobile than on their landline.

Felise says:
31 October 2016

I wish ALL unsolicited calls intended to promote advertising of products or services to be made an illegal act.
In the meantime, this recent win is progress and I thank you for your support in addressing this intrusive blight upon our privacy. Please continue.
At what point in the past did we, the phone users and bill payers, agree to have our day and evenings interrupted ( at any time ) by unsolicited advertising?
If I wanted to engage with buying products or services , I would and do, just like the vast majority of the population seek out information myself in my own chosen time!

This sentiment would decimate tens of thousands of jobs. It is the very few industries, PPI, ambulance chasers etc… chasing the real millions of pounds only made available by deceitful banks and the likes that is driving this hatred. Small local businesses will be shut, large legitimate call centres offering utility deals to save consumers £100’s of pounds a year etc… will fall foul of these cowboys. Be careful of what you wish for.

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No decent jobs would be lost if Felise’s recommendation was taken up. Very few legitimate companies still make cold sales calls; apart from its inherent inefficiency and the legal restrictions, it’s been found to be a poor way of picking up appreciative new customers. We don’t need cold calls or pressurised selling to get a better energy deal as it is easier on-line or by calling one’s own supplier or an alternative one direct.

The people have spoken, and they want all of these calls not just banned but prevented from getting through. There is no real consumer support for ‘marketing survey’-type calls either but they seem to remain legitimate; they are dying out because the results are so unreliable and the prospects for generating any sales interest are very poor. The spread of answering machines is making this type of contact very unremunerative so there will be few job losses if these are also outlawed.

Michael says:
6 November 2016

There is a problem about reporting nuisance calls. Even if the caller’s number is captured by my phone, the various online reporting mechanisms don’t seem to provide a viable means of reporting a call where I actually manage to avoid being defrauded or signed up to some scam.

When I do unintentionally answer one of these calls, I ask the caller to hold on while I switch on my recording device in order to report this call which does not appear to comply with my TPS registration. Funny how quickly they then hang up…..