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Update: Should company directors be held responsible for nuisance calls?

Mobile phone graphic

Eight in ten people agree with our proposal to hold company directors personally accountable for nuisance phone calls. And it’s now more clear than ever why this is necessary.

Not so long ago I was in the middle of submitting an essay for a course I’ve been doing – I had 15 minutes to the deadline and was feeling a little flustered to say the least. And of course, my phone rang.

I looked down and saw it was an unknown number. I answered, and the person at the other end of the phone opened with ‘hello, I heard you’ve just been in a car accident and need to claim on your insurance?’ My reply? ‘I’m pretty sure I wasn’t, especially as I don’t own a car.’

The next sound I heard was the click of the person on the other end disconnecting.

Nuisance calls: top annoyance

It was no more than 30 seconds of my time, but with a deadline looming over me, it was incredibly annoying. And I know I’m not alone – I’ve read so many stories from people like you here on Which? Conversation. In fact, our latest research shows that eight in ten people with a home landline was called by a nuisance caller in May 2016.

I’ve now registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) to try and fight back. Lots of people have been doing the same, yet only 5% of the people we asked have complained to an independent body about unsolicited calls or texts in the last 12 months. Why? The main reason is that they don’t think the calls or texts would reduce or that complaining wouldn’t do any good. However, we know that reporting nuisance calls can lead to significant fines from the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO). The question is whether this is enough.

What we’ve done so far

We want to see company directors personally held to account if their company is found to be nuisance calling. This is backed by the public, with eight in ten people agreeing that such a move would be welcome.


Following our campaign to call time on nuisance calls, the Government and regulators have taken a number of actions to tackle this scourge such as mandatory caller ID and tougher fines from the ICO.

Why this doesn’t go far enough

However, of the 22 fines issued against companies since April 2015, only four have been paid in full. Two have been part-paid, and the remaining fines have not been paid at all, or the companies have gone bust.

That’s why we’re calling on the Government to introduce tougher action. Director level accountability should be introduced immediately to compliment the ICO’s existing powers. This will stop rogues stepping around the rules by closing one business and re-establishing another just to avoid the ICO’s fines.

Do you agree with our call for directors to be held personally accountable for nuisance calls? Tell me what you think in the comments and vote in our poll.


Update: 25 October 2017

A call for action on nuisance calls took one step closer to becoming reality last night.

In the House of Lords, Peers voted 253 to 205, a majority of 48, in favour of a cross-party amendment that would see unsolicited calls banned.

The vote demonstrates a desire to protect the most vulnerable in society from these nuisance calls, described by one Lord as an ‘omnipresent menace’, that can prove harmful in a number of ways.

The government failed to win over critics by promising a future ban on such calls from claims management companies who cold call members of the public about pensions.

However, supporters of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill amendment want more immediate action given this growing problem.

We’re encouraged that Peers are pushing for action on nuisance calls and now it’s time for the government to step up and tackle the issue.

How do you feel about this news? Do you want to see more commitment from the government on the issues on nuisance calls?

Comments
Member

And thats sad Maggie , all down to rampart commercialism destroying the lives of the British public. This will build up to a point where the public will say-enough already ! and use their suffering at the hands of greedy businesses to make their point at the next general election . Visible action is required not “nice words ” .

Member

The British public have said “enough already” ten times over but nothing much has changed for the better. The same stories have been repeated time and time again in Which? Conversation and in other media going back several years. General elections come and go but this issue is not a tipping point. Inland cold-calling has no doubt diminished significantly but international cold-calling has expanded to fill the void, and it is of a more pernicious kind because it is usually for criminal purposes. I didn’t mind the occasional call from a local company pushing their products or services; these have virtually dried up now, which is good. The next phase was the parasitic cold-calling looking for victims who could be milked through a compensation claim, or could be miss-sold some financial product; these seem to have died down but not gone away completely. Now people are being plagued by ruthless criminal scams through misrepresentation, false pretences, lies, and deception that allow the perpetrators to fraudulently gain access to their life savings or to invade their computer. So the (relatively) mild and inoffensive commercial calls have gradually been replaced by the cruel and grossly offensive cold calls we hear about today. The law has dealt with the easy bit of the problem – the rampant commercialism – but left the population more exposed than ever to the hard part – the criminal exploitation. Meanwhile people have been spending huge amounts of money on call-blocking technology or suffering an alteration in their lifestyle, as Maggie Renshaw states above, and, of course, if things carry on like this the Regulator will be able to tick the ‘Job Done’ box as “the problem has gone away”.

Member

if,as you say John internal sales calls are over ( I remain to be convinced ) and you say its international and that word has the British government holding up their hands and saying -not me gov, and telephone companies saying the same, then you might have forgotten a good while ago I gave the answer — America – yes the US has that solved (for a price ) . Remember a company I mentioned -TrapCall, and thats just one of many, look up their website not just marketeers but scam robocalls /blocked calls and much more -YOU can see who they are before you answer . Now ask yourself –if the US can have a private company intercept US exchange equipment interrogate it and get an answer WHY cant ours ?? I will tell you why they wont allow the British public the power to do it. Not because it is “impossible” just ask GCHQ what they can do , the latest secret info on them is that they are top of the league for hacking other countries worldwide even more than the NSA because with the new “snooping charter ” being so vaguely written they can do what they want when the NSA is held back by US government regulation , one UK citizen ,named on freedom websites, is at this minute being held in a London holding cell for —— encrypting his blog on a website – that constitutes contravening the UK Terrorism Act , and thats a fact ! So I don’t want to hear –its impossible from anybody , reality says differently .

Member

As I said, Duncan, inland sales calls have “virtually dried up now”. That is my experience, but I still get occasional ones from local firms and I point out to them that they are in breach of the law.

As you will know from many previous contributions, I have always maintained that there is a strategic technological solution to this problem that does not require the subscriber to pay any money, buy any apparatus, use special codes, or give up the enjoyment of their telephone. The reasons why it has not been implemented are debatable but I have no idea how it would cramp GCHQ’s operations. It is widely known that GCHQ is the most capable electronic surveillance organisation on earth and could find a work-around to any impediment that BT might put in its way in order to trace and quell cold calls.

Member
Carol Gardner says:
16 October 2016

I spent 13 years in a call centre now I am retired all I do is answer the phone. Its like being back at work. The Company I worked for did not call customers they called us if they wanted anything

Member
Carol Ponting says:
18 October 2016

Lonely elderly or disabled housebound younger people struggle to their landline hoping a loved one might talk to them. It is so cruel to make nuisance calls!

Member

Exactly Carol !! .

Member
Julie says:
19 October 2016

How about you give out the Company directors home and mobile phone no. to as many ppi , accident claims, utility change companies etc as possible . I suggest evening and weekend calls.

Member

Julie, much as I sympathise but its not something I think Which would totally approve of. A year or more ago a certain company that was causing great public distress whose offices were in Glasgow I managed to locate the CEO home address in a remote area north of Helensburgh , Scotland , a nice sea loch with beautiful views of the mountains ,serene , quiet (apart from the submarine nuke base further south ) . The CEO kicked up %$£*& and I was censured for divulging the phone number .

Member

For the first time, a nuisance marketing call has helped me.

I have run a website for a small charity since 1995. When we started to get spam email and nuisance calls I realised that our contact details had been ‘harvested’, so I converted the page to an image and posted that online. Until very recently, this worked very well.

Recently I have been receiving daily emails offering goods and services, sent to our enquiries email address, which I would normally forward to the most relevant people in the society to deal with. I had an a phone call today and it was someone who had already sent an email about a software product for charities. I asked the caller where they had got our email address and was told that the Heritage Lottery Fund had passed it on. Our society had helped put together a successful Lottery bid, although this was submitted by the landowner. I’m hoping that we can get further Lottery funding so I guess that I’m going to have to put up with nuisance phone calls and spam. At least I now know why I’m getting them. 🙁

Member

Wavechange-found the relevant parts of the conditional contract you are obliged to have in your dealings with HLF its under= Traffic patterns /Site statistics but more relevant- Transfer to third parties —- this may involve transferring or selling your information to other companies , inside or outside the EU . The mind boggles at the US/Africa/India /etc Cr%p you will get .

Member

That has really made my day. 🙁 It is a wildlife and heritage project with various partners, but HLF don’t allow partnership bids, so the owners (a company with charitable status) had to submit the bid. They must have included our contact details, though I don’t recall giving my permission. If the emails persist I can easily change our email address from enquiries@ but it looks as if HLF may be circulating my landline number. 🙁

Member

Circulating your landline number Wavechange ? -now that to me is serious for a man in your position let alone members of the public .If I was you I would use your influence with the “authorities ” to help you . Just backs up my constant criticism of the old high standards of British values going “down the tubes ” for the sake of commercialism. I have “standby email addresses in case of similar situations ,but it is a major hassle if you communicate worldwide with other organisations . I have two very secure ones I dont use unless in emergency ,so secure one was DDoS attacked not by normal hackers but was by “you know who ” because of both end encryption methods and double ( two stage ) passwords that even the server owners dont know the second one ( European server ) . I also have another two that can be for normal use. If you can prove they are doing that maybe you could “lean on them ” as your word will have much higher prestige than most of us,

Member

I am hoping that the callers are just looking up my number on our website when I had ignored their emails. The lady I spoke to yesterday mentioned that I had not replied to email. I will wait and see what happens but I’m glad that I have found why people are getting in touch with me.

Member

When I posted my real name years ago I was inundated with rubbish emails/scammers /etc but after a few years they got fed up I never replied to them and I never will or click on them .

Member
jon fox says:
21 October 2016

I am plagued by Asian sounding conmen claiming to be Talk Talk helping me fix problems with my computer. I say the most vicious and personally disgusting things to them , concerning their or my anatomy and they then hang up. When their script makes them ask “how are you today” I enjoy myself telling them in intimate detail every disgusting and noxious thing I can think of. All is fair in love and war and it is a war on these scumbags, which I wage with relish, since that is all I am able to achieve without effective laws to jail them and their bosses. Forget fines, jail them and THEN they will stop.

Member
jacky says:
21 October 2016

I registered with the Telephone Preference Service and the Mail Preference Service about 6 years ago. I don’t fill in my phone number or address on any internet site and my nuisance calls are down to two or three a year and I get very little junk mail thank goodness. At one point they were aggravating the heck out of me. I recommend signing up to these sites. We shouldn’t have to do that to stop being harrassed in our own homes though and I do think company directors should be held personally accountable for these breaches of our privacy. Good luck to anyone who tries to hit them financially!

Member
Hev Gippa says:
21 October 2016

When I get a cold call on my mobile, I logged it in as ”C**k and Bull” so the next time they call I answer it as ”C**k and Bull”!!!!!!! I am thinking of answering as a criminal being interrupted in a crime, hahahaha! The possibilities are endless……………..

Member
Ray Hill says:
22 October 2016

The worst lot of all the eco energy sales mob, along with those from INTERNATIONAL calls. It must be possible to block unwanted calls , come on BT lead the way and show you are about more than money making, put customer service first for the old uns.

Member
nesta Jones says:
22 October 2016

One way to get rid of Nuisance Calls is to Talk to them in my 1st Language which they don’t Understand, It works every time, But it’s the getting up to answer the Phone in itself is an annoyance!

Member
mick says:
23 October 2016

[Sorry Mick, your comment has been removed for breaching our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Member
jane paterson says:
23 October 2016

hate when people come on the phone there is no need and I wounder how they get your number when you are ex directory

Member
Castle says:
23 October 2016

According to the BBC:- “Nuisance call bosses to face £500,000 fines” from Spring 2017; although the report actually says ” up to” £500,000.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37743001

Member
Ian Chesterman says:
6 November 2016

Directors should, of course, be held responsible for their Company’s actions but by a charge against their personal assets as, in the past, it has been all too easy to close one Company and open up another next day through a simple cheap registration with Companies House. Maybe it is Company Law that needs changing too to prevent these serial fraudsters operating!!!

Member

I absolutely welcome directors deing punished as hard as possible but I have to say that at least 90% of the nuisance calls we get are from abroad, often India and often using computers to make the calls (thus the initial silence when answered) or still from abroad, using dummy UK numbers to fool telephone filtering & ID software which. I’m not sure what can be done to prevent these calls, perhaps better filtering software.

Member

Simply fining companies is not a good strategy. They can pass on costs to customers or go into liquidation, as one company did when faced with a £400k fine: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/may/11/keurboom-communications-fined-record-400000-over-nuisance-calls

Member

The same applies to financially penalising public bodies, like the NHS, Network Rail, the police…….it all either comes out of their budgets, reserves or the taxpayer. Pointless. Where an individual or group of individuals can be identified as, without doubt, the deliberate cause of a problem or misdemeanour they should be personally sanctioned, whether it is loss of office (without the usual hush money), loss of pension rights, or at worst a custodial sentence. I would want to make people think a lot harder before they do something they know is wrong, in the knowledge that they will suffer personally if it is discovered.

Member

I second that malcolm.

Member

There is a new Conversation on nuisance calls: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/nuisance-calls-nightmare-phones/

I support if there is clear evidence of guilt, those in charge of companies that make nuisance calls are not only fined but banned from holding any position of responsibility.