/ Technology

Win! Nuisance calls bosses will be hit with big fines

New laws come into place today to make company directors accountable for plaguing people with nuisance calls. How soon could the Information Commissioner’s Office use their new powers?

Most people you talk to can share a frustrating story about nuisance calls and spam texts. We share that pain. In fact, we’ve been campaigning for five years to put a stop to the problem.

We were pleased that in 2015 the UK Government reduced the legal threshold for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to act and issue fines of up to £500,000 to companies that were found to be breaching the law relating to nuisance calls.

But bosses have still been getting away with it – that’s until today.

Making bosses accountable

The first recommendation of Which?’s taskforce report for the UK Government, published in 2014, was to consider introducing legislation to enable board-level executives to be held accountable for the actions of their company.

Companies that unlawfully make unsolicited marketing communications by phone or text message can be fined by the ICO. However, enforcement action can only be taken against the company, rather than an individual company director.

In some cases, rogue directors are able to avoid the fines by closing one company and starting up another with a new name, known as phoenixing, to continue their activity.

After many years working on this, new legislation comes into place today that will change that. The ICO will now have the power to issue fines directly to the directors of these companies, as well as to the companies themselves.

This is a great win for Which? and the half a million people who have supported us in our campaign.

Fighting for consumers

Good progress has been made in this issue, with the ICO figures estimating that the number of nuisance calls have been falling. But we know they still exist, and we think that making the individuals responsible will continue to reduce the number of these rogue operations in existence.

This is of course just one tool in the box in ending nuisance calls, and should be used in conjunction with the others available, but we’re keen to see the ICO swiftly use these new powers to demonstrate that there will be no escape from tough action.

Do you think today’s new law will reduce the number of nuisance calls being made in the UK? How quickly do you want to see the ICO act? Do you have any tips for avoiding cold callers?


It is, indeed, great news that the government is introducing legislation to enable board-level executives to be held accountable for the actions of their company, but surely this will not apply only to rogue telephony companies?

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Duncan I agree with you. I have Sky Call Screening and haven’t had one unwanted call since. It is brilliant and 100% success, I thoroughly recommend it.
Unfortunately, the same cant be said for my mobile phone, if only the mobile providers offered the same call screening service, I’d definitely transfer my provider !

I thought we had been here a couple of years ago: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/director-accountability-nuisance-calls-fines-ico/ What I think is necessary is not just a fine but individuals being banned from holding any position of responsibility in future.

The next problem to tackle is phone calls and messages being used to perpetrate scams.

Fines on companies that make nuisance calls have not always been recovered: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/05/25/millions_of_pounds_of_ico_fines_go_unpaid_as_directors_dissolve_firms/

It will be interesting to find out if fining directors will be more successful.

It is possible that if a heavy fine leads to a director having to go into bankruptcy then he or she might be disqualified from holding a directorship in any company. I am not up-to-date on the provisions and it’s a long way round to get somewhere. There is a long history of dodgy company directors transferring their wealth and assets to others in order to evade liability.

There is a more reliable way of avoiding nuisance and scam calls. A call screening device such as trueCall can be very effective. For about half our incoming calls the phone does not ring because the device has answered instantly and asked the caller to identify him/herself. Nuisance and scam callers appear to dislike having their voices and names recorded, and nearly all ring off immediately. In over 4 years we have only had a handful of nuisance callers get through. Legitimate callers seem happy to identify themselves, and having been accepted they can be included in the list of acceptable callers and get through immediately next time without interception. Previously we were registered with TPS, which seemed to be ineffective: now the interruptions are from acceptable callers, nearly all the time. I have no connection with trueCall apart from being a very satisfied user.

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So, the government have announced yet another change to the nuisance calls regulations?

Over time, there have been more than a dozen changes to the regulations, each one touted as “the answer” and all of which have failed to live up to the hype. This is an ineffective regime, one that is seen to have been to be a total failure for the last fifteen years or more.

With more than ten million nuisance calls and texts per DAY, and the ICO investigating only a handful of companies per month, this latest change is also very unlikely to stem the flow.

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Philip says:
19 December 2018

Most nuisance calls I receive now are either ‘number withheld’ or from abroad, so though I welcome any progress in stamping them out, I can’t see how fining directors will help much

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Can you please tell why the likes of B.T. one of the main call providers in the uk can use all this sales patter to sell their wares i.e. phone calls etc.and also sell protection to stop these nuisance calls. surely the government are letting them off with extortion and selling goods under false pretences.

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Bob Wallace says:
19 December 2018

I block every call on my mobile as soon I’ve put the phone down .Must be about 30 already, just had 2 before I sent this message.

had nuisance calls ever since we moved into our home from lonely sad people with dementia etc
someone is always trying to make money on someone elses handicap

wish they would give me some money so we could move and get away from nightmare.

rearly fed up with cold calls daily and withheld numbers

John Baldwin says:
19 December 2018

I agree it is a problem. This week I’ve had three calls offering to help with motor accidents which not my fault even when I explained that I had had one accident that was entirely my fault. And three calls telling me my non-existent BT connection was to be cut off.
Why me, why now.

We had out home phone removed due to the ridiculous amount of cold calling. Now were rely of mobiles only. Cold calling still comes in, sometimes in waves or 3 or 4 per day, then nothing for a couple of weeks, as if your number is coming to the top of the pile again. These calls cause anxiety, anger and frustration.

At last we may be able to get rid of them for good. I must have 2/3 every day including weekends and even though I block the numbers they still manage to get through a few days later. I am right behind this campaign. Thank you

And this will reduce the nuisance calls I get how, exactly? Almost all unwanted calls are from criminal and/or offshore cell centres using spoofed CLI numbers. How will these be policed and stopped?

The simple answer is (like the dozen or more previous tweaks to the regulations) it won’t have any noticeable effect.

The approach taken over the last fifteen years or more has failed and been seen to fail. The numerous tweaks have failed to live up to the hype of “ending cold calls”. This one will be no different.

Official government figures show at least ten million nuisance calls and texts per DAY. A new and radically different approach is needed to tackle this problem.

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I have had a few nuisance calls over time, but never one from ‘big business’. Where is the evidence that major corporations are perpetrating nuisance calls? And why should the government support illicit activities by any branch of business? It would be in defiance of its own policies and the work of Ofcom and the ICO.

Companies are perfectly entitled to have non-geographic phone numbers and in my experience have no wish to conceal them or to hide their physical location if they are a customer-facing business. Some organisations do have a legitimate reason to protect their location but that is not in conflict with a crack-down on nuisance calls.

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But…company locations are simple to discover. “Many big firms dont want you knowing their location.

bringing in government legislation to stop it dead in its tracks … is never going to happen as big business will block it.” infers Big Business is the one making nuisance calls.

I have had many like that , they dont get through and then complain they cant contact me ” How do you know they’re complaining if they can’t contact you? Did they, er…contact you?

Duncan – Perhaps I didn’t understand your comment addressed to Ian. I certainly didn’t understand the John Lennon reference. I agree that you did not say that major companies make nuisance calls [although I would suggest that your first two sentences taken together did imply that]; my remark was due to my confusion and my incomplete editing of the comment.

I acknowledge that many organisations don’t want you to know their location, usually for legitimate reasons, but I cannot imagine that a firm which trades on customer orders and engagement would want to conceal their address. It is generally in the public domain anyway.

I don’t see any problem with firms using international numbers. So long as they are not making nuisance calls there should be no risk to their business. I don’t think anyone wants to block legitimate calls.

As you keep saying, business is global, so companies need to consider how they operate to serve their customers and do their business internationally. It’s not because they don’t want you to know their location it’s so they can optimise their commercial response to their markets.

One of the drawbacks of total reliance on blocking facilities is that they could prevent communication from a trusted source. Users have to weigh up that contingency when they decide to block incoming calls.

Any telecom system that intends to block incoming nuisance calls needs first to establish which calls are in that category. Indiscriminate blocking of calls from particular places is not acceptable. Until the technology meets this requirement the government and telecom service providers will not be able to do much about them other than pass laws and introduce penalties which rely on enforcement within the UK jurisdiction.

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I remain intrigued how the technology can tell a call is likely to be a nuisance without listening to it.

In the UK the pressure is coming from telecom subscribers [as seen in these Conversations], from consumer bodies like Which?, Citizens Advice and the Fair Telecoms Campaign, and from the Regulators [Ofcom and ICO] who have enforcement powers.

An uninterested or indifferent government would not have passed legislation to enable the fining of directors of companies that contravene the law.

Ah – so they did contact you, Duncan? So you were not accurate when you said they complained they couldn’t contact you, as obviously they could contact you. They might not have been able to use every channel of communication to do so, but the fact remains they could contact you.

Organisations such as HMRC repeatedly attempt to get you to call them on the ‘phone, but I will never engage with them in that way, since I want a written record of everything that transpires between us. But then – I’m a sceptic.

John: there is as yet no means of identifying a call as a ‘nuisance’ call without hearing at least part of the call itself. Perhaps Duncan should provide a link to any ‘evidence’ for such technology if indeed it even exists.

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So the link is…?

it wont mean a thing they will still do this from abroad and this legislation will mean nothing,far too many people working for these companies for pitanse wages,but they are off benefits,suits the government just fine.

ChrisN says:
19 December 2018

If I get international calls or local numbers I do not recognise I simply ignore them working on the principle that they will leave a voicemail if they are genuine. With a little patience I have found they give up calling.
(I am probably pushing my luck by saying that & they’ll start again now)!!

Most of these scam calls are Asian sounding, with allegedly Caucasian names. I always inform them it is a scam and, as a result, they forfeit a month off their lives, by Khali. They always ring off, before I can add a maniacal peal of laughter!
The rest are recorded messages that my broad band is about to be closed down. I block them, but they are not British numbers, and there is no way of tracing the perpetrators, unless someone knows how to persuade Khali……

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they can be blocked before it rings

D’you have any evidence of that, Duncan? A link, perhaps?