/ 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?


One problem is that nuisance calls can come from abroad to dodge any action that MIGHT be taken in the UK against them

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Anthony John Allen says:
18 June 2017

India is by far the worst offender abroad, something else Which could look at is UK companies using Indian overseas call centers, not only does it mean losses of UK jobs but usually the Indian call takers don’t really have enough knowledge to help adequately, I also believe that is how a lot of our information is passed on. Taking that further how about making it illegal for companies to sell on your information, once you have traded with them, even the DVLA is at it.

Make it illegal to use fake Caller ID numbers (& with held numbers) so we know who is calling and can easily get back to them.

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Some of what you request is illegal, Neil, in the UK, but the long arm of our law does not quite reach the parts of the world from which these problems emanate.

Hopefully the system being introduced by BT will help take care of these problems. https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/bt-nuisance-call-block-blacklist-phone/

So often we can see the caller numbers but they do not sound genuine, with few zeros in the beginning and the end. Moreover it is dangerous to get back, as it could be premier line number costing from £2 to £100 per minute. Withheld numbers should not be allowed, especially for businesses.

Unfortunately BT’s call block list only works if you answer the call first, as we found today.

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Ann says:
2 June 2017

My problem is most nuisance calls originate from abroad and I feel that there is very little can be done about them I also feel that personal data given to companies should have to be held much more securely and be unable to be passed on to third parties. Companies found to be doing so should face heavy penalties.

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Hi, I am bombarded by an “International” phone number several times a day Monday to Friday, supposedly from a company working on behalf of the government, offering boiler/double glazing, to “people on benefits. I have repeatedly told them I am not on benefits and both my boiler and windows are new and so don’t need either, but they still phone me at least four times per day. I have TPS and call block, but nothing seems to work. I’m also disabled and live alone, so to keep answering the phone to idiots is annoying.

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Had a new type of call the other day.

The voice was authoritative, male, well-spoken English who asked for me by name and said he was my local efficiency advisor.

Anyone who starts the conversation with ‘How are you today’ immediately gets treated as a nuisance caller. After asking me twice and me asking why he wanted to know, he put the phone down.

This COULD have actually been a genuine call. The caller COULD have been from https://www.projectleap.org.uk/explaining-leap-to-residents .

But how are we supposed to know if the caller or the service is genuine?

On their website it says The council and its network of local agencies provide referrals of vulnerable local residents who are in (or at risk of falling into) fuel poverty. My council would 1000% definitely NOT have recommended me as a vulnerable resident.

And that begs the question Was the caller genuine?

If this is a genuine service, it needs to be handled differently and definitely not with unsolicited phone calls that are open to abuse from fraudsters.

Councils need to send residents letters inviting them to contact someone at their local council if they are identified as vulnerable so they can be protected from abuse or fraud.

Interestingly, a couple of days ago I could not find anything on the phone number, but have just searched again and got http://who-called.co.uk/Number/02380170873

One of the problems of trying to filter out nuisance calls. Someone genuine whom you do not know may well be phoning you.

I have had an occasional call telling me my computer has a problem…..i ask where they are calling from and they say Glasgow, Notting Hill….so I point out the displayed number is overseas. That usually terminates the conversation.

Stanley Bennett says:
8 December 2017

I too get at least one call a week saying there is something wrong with my computer I got so fed up I just tell them to forth and multiply but they still keep ringing me

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Congratulations to WHICH for its many campaigns to assist and protect consumers. It is just sad that the Government does not do more.
Continue the excellent work!

Heather Cook says:
18 June 2017

I would love if someone could let me know a number I could call for my mobile to stop tthe nuisance calls

Thanks a very frustrated customer

There should be more legislation on all calls including political parties, the laws of misguidance, fraud (including political lying or trying to get you vote a way as it should be your choice not a party rouge call centre pressing you, as that in the way i see it is a treasonous act on power grabbing so more laws Fines and imprisonments).

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Donna says:
5 July 2017

You can register for free with the Telephone Preference Service [TPS] which is a free service to stop unwanted cold calling by any business. If anyone does ring you after registering you can report their number.

I will play around with them for as long as I can until they get fed up with me. It’s funny when the penny drops, one day I had a guy saying he couldn’t believe how stupid I was.
I am wasting their time, I try and keep it going for as long as I can, I know then they will be leaving someone else alone.

Ian says:
9 July 2017

If I want to buy something I will look around and make my own choices.Callers that are constantly bombarding people with stupid calls that have no relevance to anything should be held to account that is the bosses and the people making the calls .Far too much time is wasted by answering calls at home to find either, no one on the other end or someone who tells you they are not trying to sell you something.This has been going on far too long and it needs to be stopped ,the fine that you have proposed is far too small, infact make it like a stalking crime because that is what it is really and put them all away for a very long time.

Best thing we ever bought was a call guardian, caller has to announce themselves giving you options, still get withheld but inform hospitals and such they need to announce themselves, works perfect, get very few calls now, peace at last.

I got a BT phone a couple years back I was utterly shell shocked at the drop in nuisance calls . Then I got their upgrade model I am a pig in muck. 99% result why not 100 % the crafty ones try and use a Brit number but if you know that there is always a second like a call being put through so learn as I did and put the phone down. These type of class are rare very rare so BT fantastic well done and thank you being disabled and trying to get my ringing phone.

Ian Colley says:
16 October 2017

Sorry Barry, I read your comment several times, but couldn’t make any sense of it, so must give it the big thumbs down. Ian C.

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its good news, although i would like fines aimed directly at those responsible at the top. not let them pay out of the Companies profits. but out of there own pocket.

The same should apply to Junk mail. Making it an ofeence to deliver any mail other than to named Occupier or official mail e.g.Electoral registration form.

You can opt out of receiving unaddressed mail, Alf. The Royal Mail has a facility for doing so but it doesn’t advertise it because it gets paid a lot to deliver such material. You’ll probably find it on their website.

John – thanks for that info.

However, that web page says “Royal Mail is still legally obliged to deliver all addressed mail, which includes mail that is addressed “To the Occupier” (or with any other generic recipient information), as well as mail that is personally addressed to you by name.”

So this won’t stop the fortnightly mailshots that I get from Virgin “Dear Householder, As you’ll notice whenever you mow your front lawn, we carried out pre-work for Virgin FTTP when your house was built 6 years ago. As you have not taken out a Virgin subscription, we’ll keep on mailing you until you do…”

I’m tempted to had a sign asking for unaddressed mail to be put in the blue bin, but it’s in the back garden and the gate is often locked.

Yes, that is the case, Derek, because the Royal Mail was desperate to find a quasi-plausible way of hanging onto some of the revenue from unwanted mailings; I have to say I am rather doubtful of their claim that they have a legal obligation to deliver mail posted to The Occupier and would be interested to know whether anyone can actually cite a legislative justification.

Personally, I don’t regard putting ‘To the Occupier’ as a form of address, which in my book should be both personal and individual. I don’t know what happens if stuff is returned to Virgin Media requesting them to ‘unsubscribe’ you. BT are at it too and some weeks we get both.

I have sometimes returned post sent to The Occupier marked “Gone Away – Please return to sender” and it has actually worked so perhaps that is the remedy. I remember when we stopped all the commercial flyers from being delivered by the Royal Mail it was actually successful but I don’t think the sorting office people were happy as it made extra work and I am sure it just went in a bin for disposal. When we moved I couldn’t be bothered to set it up again so now we get a few flyers but most of the junk mail falls out of the subscription magazines we get – sometimes the unwanted rubbish exceeds the weight of the publication.

The Royal Mail always make the point if you sign up to their junk mail refusal system that you run the risk of not getting important announcements from local authorities, etc. Hurrah was my response.

Independent distributors are a plague now, sometimes with three or four in a day – usually for grotty take-aways, house cleaners, gutter and driveway renovators, and estate agents [the company they keep! . . . ].

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I am sure that Virgin Media cannot be bothered to look up the names of residents in streets they have cabled – they just keep sending brochures to all the addresses which have not signed up and hope to catch one in a hundred every couple of weeks – it must pay them to do it otherwise they wouldn’t.

With BT, we receive their TV brochures fully addressed because we are BT telecom subscribers so in that case it is attempted upselling. No luck with us though.

TalkTalk also send addressed letters but they make names up and don’t have a clue who lives where.

I doubt if many commercial organisations use the electoral register directly because it is so incomplete with many households opting to appear only in the restricted edition. It is used by marketing aggregators, however, to confirm or keep track of the names they have harvested from other sources. Whole databases of names and addresses are available from numerous sources, including product registrations unfortunately. Supposedly it is all regulated by the Information Commissioner, and perhaps it is and could be much worse without some form of control.

I have no concerns about where my name appears – in fact I welcome it because I can follow the trails and see who knows what. I can control proliferation through not responding and, compared with some people who have posted on Which? Conversation, it seems that we get very little unwanted bumf.

Virgin Media could save themselves a lot of money if they stopped sending mail to those who are never going to have access to cable.

Independent distributors ought to be classed as cold-callers and if they want leaflets distributed, do it through Royal Mail.

Any unwanted mail delivered by Royal Mail should be marked in large letters PLEASE RETURN TO SENDER and put into a mail box you should find that the rubbish you get from that source stops as the have to pay for it being returned not all but most I have done just that for a few years and now get very little unwanted addressed mail

I have put a large sign on my door saying NO leaflets including political ones NO this NO that it can be read from the street I was told by one man delivering leaflets if they can see you do not want such things and they know before entering your premises they will walk past if they reach your door they will deliver anyway I now just get people who cannot read still trying to deliver but if I see them I say can’t you read you had better go and learn I often get a answer in a foreign language very few unwanted things now

It is all done from a computer and computers do not have any common sense Yours is a common sense answer

bishbut says:
22 August 2017

Do what I do have a caller list and only answer calls from numbers on that list which come up as names .The list can be added to and numbers deleted very easily My only gripe is having to pay extra for caller display but its maybe worth it Ignore all other calls Numbers can be checked using Google etc.to find what sort of call it is and if to answer or not by reading the experience of others

Maybe we need an update on the fines for directors and how successful this approach has been. The maximum fine so far seems to be £400k, levied on a company that made over 99 million automated nuisance calls. They had the opportunity of a prompt payment discount and the opportunity to appeal, but the company seems to be in liquidation. I hope that is thanks to the fine, but I wonder if a penny has been paid by the directors.

The government still hasn’t passed the necessary legislation to enable the ICO to fine Directors. So, at the moment it’s only companies which get fined, most of which then liquidate and walk away to start up again as a different company.

Perhaps we should consider fining all individuals who transgress, whether in the private or the public sector. Even for more “trivial” cases like the County Council who allegedly have fiddled their air quality figures for several years so developers could get planning permission to build lucrative houses in an area where it might otherwise have been denied. Trivial? It might result in significant health problems or even early deaths? The ombudsman found the council guilty of “maladministration”. Reported in Private Eye. No reports of anyone on the council involved gaining financially from the “maladministration”……

We frequently see “maladministration” in the public sector, involving huge amounts of taxpayers money. We rarely see any retribution.

Independent monitoring could help to address cheating in all sectors. As long as individuals who transgress either admit their failing or it can be proven, I would welcome personal fines, and maybe these would act as a deterrent to others. People who cheat should be banned from holding any position of responsibility for life.

£500,000 is a pittance to these people. 10 year mandatory prison sentence would end it all , and very quickly.
Will be glad to see the end of PPI .

BT now offer a free 1572 service which blocks the last number that called you.

Invest in BT 8500 which allows the user to block calls. By default, a computerised voice states, ” calls to this number are being screened by BT Call Guardian, please say you name and press the # key to connect, Then choose 1 = Block Once, 2= always block, 3 = send to answerphone. You can save all the names & numbers that you wish to receive calls from. Easy to set up, dedicated BT line to help set up Call Guardian. You can buy one handset or two. Handset 1 houses the answerphone. I bought two hand sets, both cordless. The phone(s) automatically synchronise both handsets. Some cheap offers on these. I bought 2 handsets from Amazon, but check BT, they will often beat any price.

Nuisance calls are now a thing of the past for my wife and me