/ 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?


Well done Which, its about time too, thank you.

J.parmar says:
19 December 2018

Hi thank you Which for this . Well done…

If more people would stop whinging and get themselves call blockers/screeners the scope for abuse of the telephone system would diminish greatly and the rogues would need to find some other means of annoying or scamming the public. Treat it as a form of insurance – expensive until you need it and realise the benefits.

Gerry says:
19 December 2018

Why should people be blackmailed into having to buy expensive apparatus because of the miserable failures of the so-called watchdogs and regulators to take effective action in a timely manner against criminals? That’s not whingeing, it’s just taking these useless fatcats to task.

Such devices are equally effective with rogues outside UK jurisdiction. If you have a better solution to eliminating overseas nuisances, we need to hear it.

I agree with Gerry here.

Folk already paying for a phone SERVICE ought not to have to buy add-on hardware to block calls from rogue numbers.

When dodgy websites are revealed, internet service providers block access to these sites, to protect their customers.

So there’s really no why phone companies cannot offer similar services to their customers, e.g.

1. an option to block – or send to voice mail – all “number withheld” calls.

2. an option to report, red flag and ultimately block calls from scammers, whether or not the numbers are spoofed or not.

3. An “IFF” option to white list or grey list all incoming calls, so all non recognised numbers are either rejected or sent to voice mail.

I can’t help thinking that many phone companies won’t do this because they are making money from the call charges paid by these nuisance callers.

Robert says:
19 December 2018

Unfortunately, call blockers are only useful when a number is displayed. Many nuisance calls are from overseas, and blocking international numbers is not much use if you have friends who ‘phone from abroad. Likewise, blocking withheld numbers can result in missing calls from hospitals and doctors who more often than noit, withhold telephone numbers.

You don’t always have to buy a call-filtering device. The techical features of the trueCall devices are built directly into the telephone network in the case of both S!ky (Sky Shield) and TalkTalk (Call Safe). There is no reason why these facilities couldn’t also be built into the mobile networks, but so far none have done so.

That’s rather like saying you should carry a concealed weapon i case you get mugged, meanwhile the law does nothing about muggers.

Yes I do have such a piece of kit, but because my daughter routinely blocks her number from caller id, I have to allow number withheld calls. Personally, I would like to see the bosses of these firms locked in a public pillory for a few days –

Gerry says:
19 December 2018

Just tell your daughter to release her number by prefixing your number with 1470 from a landline or *31# from a mobile.

Not true. Mine interrogates any caller with number withheld, and scammers always seem to hang up, while genuine callers get through. I have advised our surgery not to hide the number, and they can then get through with no problem.

Lyn Williams says:
19 December 2018

Great work but will it stop the calls from overseas?

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peter says:
19 December 2018

same here, daily calls from over seas for 5 years or more no matter how many numbers i block ………………….

The Law may be there, but now you have to get the ICO to take action – and swiftly. If there is no action or a slow response then the criminals are emboldened to carry on.

19 December 2018

The recent move to make number display available to all subscribers has been a great help in making it easier to ignore these calls.However experience has shown that overseas call centres generally ignore uk/eu laws.

I use the free BT Call Protect service on our landline which has been very effective. 70 phone numbers on my black list. 442 calls prevented from getting through.

The advantage of services based at the exchange is that as well as not needing to buy equipment, the service can be updated when necessary. It has been suggested that call blockers are better and if so there is scope to improve the service you use. Now that BT Call Protect has been available since 2017 it would be useful if Which? would update this page: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/nuisance-calls/article/nuisance-calls-call-blocker-reviews/nuisance-calls-call-blocking-options

BT Call Protect barred calls from the hospital to us, as the hospital number made so many calls to patients re appointments being changed/offered that BT’s algorithm thought they were spam calls. As a result my husband was almost taken off the waiting list for a heart procedure as it appeared to the hospital we were ignoring their offers of appointments. We only found this out when we rang them. Needless to say we removed call protect from our package.

That suggests to me that BT need to improve their system, e.g. to use more operator input and less so-called artificial intelligence.

I spent some time this afternoon with a website that needed Gloucester to be specified as Gloucester, Gloucestershire. A human would usually manage to work out the county without additional input data.

Thanks for noting this Judy.
The fair telecoms campaign has noted a number of specific examples where the BT “Call Protect” system, in common with many other call blocking techniques, has ended up by blocking wanted and even very important calls.
Blocking calls from withheld numbers is another classic example of how such techniques can produce unintended and unhappy results.
Please get in touch with details of your case (in confidence) through the “Contact” page of the fair telecoms campaign website.

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Thanks for the tip Duncan. Our technical people are not aware of any risk to those who contact us, but they are looking into the points you make.

David Freeman says:
19 December 2018

Our cold calls have dropped to zero over the last couple months thanks to the effort of Which and others.
Thank you.
My system now blocks all calls that do not show a number.

However we still receive 2 per day around noon. Both are showing numbers now, one is an 08 number ( which when you ring back you are told the number does not exist. The second number now shows a UK dialling code( but again does not exist).
I have put a stop to the numbers on our phone but they seem to us numbers randomly as they show up the following day as a different number. As I take one of these calls randomly the story is the same.

I think the next step for the telephone companies is to stop calls from non existing numbers.

These calls sound as though they are coming from India or Pakistan. I wonder if :
1 They can be traced?
2 If yes can these companies be find also.
The call is always about the telephone or internet and they say that they represent BT.

Yes, I have had exactly the same experience and concur that phone companies should stop calls from non-existing numbers. This seems to be a big loophole that criminals are exploiting.

I agree. Our BT call protect works quite well but still does not seem to be able to deal with pseudo numbers, as BT can only stop real numbers they know about. Adding them to your black list does nothing as they change them with every call.

Well done indeed to Which and all responders to the campaign.

David Freeman, thanks, same experience for us. We block the numbers, but the same organisation (I think) calls from another “UK” number the next day or week. But the frequency has dropped a lot over the past year. I don’t actually get any nuisance calls and only one repetitive text on my mobile.
I usually answer the landline call because it looks like a bone fide number and the I stay silent while their system recognises that someone has answered. Then I get a person who usually sounds Indian asking if they are speaking to Mr. XXXX and mispronounces my name. Sometimes I sound interested but ask a series of really dumb questions until they twig that I am leading them on. Sometimes my wife blows a VERY loud whistle or foghorn that we have into the receiver. It must be painful the other end. What bothers me is where do these people get our details from? We are ex directory and have opted out of everything I can think of Telephone & Mail Preference Services etc. But with all these database breaches and website hacks, (British Airways, Facebook, Yahoo, Credit Agencies etc.) am I surprised? No. Wait for the Passport Office to be hacked. Anyway, our PPI is probably out there in cyberspace and has been sold multiple times. that is why I NEVER enter our correct DOB on websites unless absolutely unavoidable. My wife and I are actually 119 years old….
I am concerned at elderly non-techie people being fooled by these or any cold callers.

It is important to note that under the terms of the newly Revised General Conditions, your telephone Service Provider is required to block all calls giving non-dialable numbers as CLI.
See General Condition C6.6 at (insert url for ofcom website) … /__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/112692/Consolidated-General-Conditions.pdf#page=50.
BT has disputed its duty to comply with this condition, however a formal complaint is awaiting a full resolution. Others may wish to make a similar complaint and please keep the fair telecoms campaign informed with the response.
If Which? would like to join us in this campaign, as it has in others, we would be delighted to receive its support, even though we know it will seek to take all the credit.

Thank you but how do we go about getting them reported

I don’t know how to report these calls and many of the calls do not reveal their number.
Can anyone give instructions how please?

Gerry says:
20 December 2018

Search online for Information Commissioner’s Office, Make a Complaint, Nuisance Calls

Should noi have to pay to have them stopped, should be stopped at source, along with all the rubbish through the letterbox.

Our nuisance calls have become less frequent recently, however, those from overseas remain the same.

I may be skeptical but most of my nuisance calls from oversea

Good news for anything to stop this plague which can be very distressing for vulnerable people. I note the advocates of call blockers but as a welfare secretary for a small association and user of an adapted phone this will not work for me as not compatible or allow for calls from genuine people in distress.

Dorothy Forsyth says:
19 December 2018

I get bout 3 a d ay. they do not have a phone number. I do hope you can stop them.

I have had 2 nuisance phone call this week
I have their phone numbers – in Britain – what phone number do I report these to any body please


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The new laws are welcome but only scratch the surface of the problem. The overwhelming number of nuisance calls are from criminal scammers who call from cloned numbers. Blocking is useless as they use a different number every time, and increasingly a unique number with an apparently legitimate local code. I flag up these numbers on the “who called me” website. A quick look at that illustrates just how many people are affected. The powers that be could do worse than collect data from there. Congratulations to “Which?” for their role in getting this new legislation in place, but now it is time to address the real problem.

By flagging up spoofed calling line “presentation numbers” as being scams, you are unfortunately also attributing the scam to the genuine owner of the number if that telephone number is actually allocated and in use.

Call blockers are ineffective while the number can be spoofed, I blockers callers only to get an identical call from another number. In addition, blocking anonymous calls blocks some genuine calls from local care services and other legitimate callers. They need to be stopped at source

Call filtering based on trueCall technology does not have this flaw. The trueCall system challenges unknown callers to complete a verbal challenge. Your telephone handset does not ring until they have done so. The trueCall system lets known callers straight through. Scam and nuisance callers and automated systems simply hang up and your phone does not ring. The trueCall system is available as a plug-in unit, or built into various handsets such as the BT 8500 and BT 8600 units, as well as built directly into the telephone nutwork itself in the case of Sky (Sky Shield) and TalkTalk (Call Safe).

A good result. However there are still the ones that ring you, don’t leave a message and when you check the number and ring it back the number just happens to be a not used number! Frustrating.

Call filtering based on trueCall technology does not have this flaw. The trueCall system challenges unknown callers to complete a verbal challenge. Your telephone handset does not ring until they have done so. The trueCall system lets known callers straight through. Scam and nuisance callers and automated systems simply hang up and your phone does not ring. The trueCall system is available as a plug-in unit, or built into various handsets such as the BT 8500 and BT 8600 units, as well as built directly into the telephone nutwork itself in the case of Sky (Sky Shield) and TalkTalk (Call Safe).

Marc Fuller says:
19 December 2018

Thank you and well done. I have been constantly plagued by nuisance calls. Its about time the bosses are made accountable for disrupting peoples lives.

Fining the bosses is a good first step but will never succeed while you do not prevent firms which make nuisance calls being able to spoof their telephone number when they call you. Spoofed calls can be made by far too many people and needs to be prevented. I believe that it is in BT’s interest to allow spoofing to keep on going as they benefit financially from the spoofing. What we need is a ban on anyone who allows spoofed telephone calls to be made.. Fine the bosses of the telecom companies who allow this to go on. The number of calls I get on a BT landline, which when I try to check who made them is prevented by the number being unobtainable or not recognised, is very large. It should be against the law to allow a call to be made from an untraceable number. BT’s 1471 is a good thing but prevents culprits from being traced so their bosses can be fined when the number is not available

Could you explain your assertion that “BT … benefits financially from … spoofing … of numbers”?

This claim is made frequently, but with no explanation of how this could happen.


I think we’re assuming here that nuisance callers are charged by BT (and/or other UK companies) when calls are connected to UK phone numbers.

I do hope our UK telephone companies aren’t allowing nuisance callers to make free calls to us!

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Duncan – you seem to be saying that BT are allowing these nuisance calls to be made almost for nothing.

I don’t think they should be doing that.

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Are you saying the if a user of some VOIP company phones me, they get charged about 1.2p per minute, if I answer the call, and NONE of those charges end up going to either my telephone company (PLUSNET) or to Openreach?

When a call is made to an ordinary UK geographic number or to an ordinary UK mobile number, the caller’s phone provider has to pay a fee to the called party’s telephone provider to compensate them for connecting and conveying the call onwards to the final destination. This is known as a termination fee.

On calls to UK geographic numbers starting 01 and 02 the termination rate is much less than 0.21p (£0.0021) per minute. Some reports suggest it is very much less than this.

On calls to UK mobile numbers starting 071 to 075 and 077 to 079 the termiation rate is less than 0.49p (£0.0049) per minute. This has been reduced over time from the 40p per minute, or more, levels that were common in the 1990s.

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Duncan – you seem to be missing the point here.

As we all know, telephone companies impose call charges and don’t usually ask the permission of their users before increasing them. I’m sure all householders will recognise that as a reality.

In advance of, or in the absence of any, appropriate legislation, I don’t think there is anything to stop telephone companies from using pricing mechanisms that will discourage cold calling.

After, if better call blocking technology is required in exchanges, it will have to be paid for somehow.

In the absence of other issues, I’m sure that measures to discourage calls would rest uneasily with telephone companies, just as energy saving measures might do with energy retailers.