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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?


Someone has to take responsibility for this nonsense and none better than those that run the business i.e., DIRECTORS
Excuses are not acceptable
If you don’t know or deny knowledge of what your business is up to you need to be sacked
Just like anyone else

I am receiving regular”UNAVAIL” calls. and occasionally an “WITH HELD” call which I never answer and never will. I have reported these calls to “OFCOM” but have now given up doing so as can be getting one every day .I never answer any call which does not come from a number on my calls list,which I change as necessary Those on my calls list appear as names as well as numbers. Mine is not an expensive phone by a cheapish one. I have to pay for caller display which I think should be provided for free but I consider the small cost well worth the money

I get around five a day . My phone gives details of the geographical location of the call and they are from all over the UK but I have now started getting one every day from Alexandria in Egypt. I never answer any of them now but they never give up as the same numbers come up every day.

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No I did know that although I am not surprised these days by anything HMG might get up to. I do not answer calls anymore from any unrecognized numbers. The American internet is disgusting allowing advertisements for scamming calls.

I am somewhat depressed that Which? apparently was not aware that the legal system has for over a hundred years has said companies are not really run by Directors but have a legal life of their own. This fact does mean you can fine a company and the Directors can bail, can close it down, and that the upshot is they escape scot-free.

So yes I applaud any extension of company law that allows for the jailing of Directors and/or hefty fines or seizure of assets. What is curious is that Which? seems to want to restrict it solely to nuisance call!
“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.”

Given all the dodgy kitchen companies, slate sign companies, car sales companies, letting agents etc can Which? explain why they are not included in this welcome potential change to the legal relationship of Directors to the Companies that employ them. That is Directors ARE liable for the actions of the Company

I look forward with great interest to the reply from Which?

DLA? Is that something we should now about?

For “now” read “know” in the above.

It’s fun attempting to guess what the acronym DLA stands for. Even Google doesn’t seem to know.

My googl-fu says Dental Laboratories Association. Before it was abolished Disability Living Allowance.

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we now what you meant diesel.

It used to be the Decorative Lighting Association. Now no longer “Decorative”. I think it is the Directors Liability Authority which should be set up to decide what to do with the miscreants.

In Northern Ireland it means Disability Living Allowance. It’s a great scheme if you can get on to it.

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And DLA is?

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Thanks for that Jack. Where does this term originate from ? I cannot find it referenced anywhere.

Personally I prefer Director Level Culpability as this is what we are talking about.
“From a legal perspective, culpability describes the degree of one’s blameworthiness in the commission of a crime or offense. Except for strict liability crimes, the type and severity of punishment often follow the degree of culpability. “Culpability means, first and foremost, direct involvement in the wrongdoing, such as through participation or instruction”, as compared with responsibility merely arising from “failure to supervise or to maintain adequate controls or ethical culture”.[2] Wikipedia

I think the word “Level” adds nothing to the term. I would prefer ‘Directorship Liability’ and to do away with abstruse acronyms.

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We would not have jails big enough. You would be overcome by calls inviting you to become a prison warder.

Alien Nomad says:
30 August 2016

Maybe they should set up anti-call centres in jails where the directors are banged up with a phone that constantly rings and asks them if they need insurance or a new boiler.

Happy to add my views here. I start with tv ads. In the beginning tv was for entertainment. Not any more! It is simply a market for profiteering interrupted by what was once either a film or other form of entertainment. Every programme is ruined by incessant loud shouting sales talk and the same old products every 10 minutes or so! Even xmas we are not spared? AND We agree to.pay licence fees for the priveledge?? I know some like ads@ But every 10 minutes!!! Please lets get our evenings back for entertainment and not be sold to all the time. Apologies to ad lovers.

Gordonkerrison, I don’t like ads either – I don’t need them and they break up programmes to spoil my attention and entertainment.
However, you pay your license fee for tv channels that do not have ads (except mainly for other programmes), and for radio programmes uninterrupted by the devils. Thank goodness for the BBC and down with the rest.

But I’m not sure what this has to do with nuisance calls – nuisance certainly, calls….?

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Why don’t they advertise it on ITV etc duncan?

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Oh God yet another dreadful import from the U.S.A.

In very simple terms the directors should be liable if the company doesn’t pay and furthermore, as dieseltaylor mentions, this should apply to all fines/penalties issued.

Well, DT has hit the nail squarely on the head. Why restrict this to Nuisance callers? I’ve always wondered why the concept of Limited Liability has never been challenged by Which? Why should Directors of companies be allowed to escape the consequences of their decisions? If the law were to be changed to make Company Directors personally liable for the actions of their employees, it could have a salutary effect on the entire market.

The development of limited liability facilitated the move to large-scale industrial enterprise, by removing the threat that an individual’s total wealth would be confiscated if invested in an unsuccessful company. The question is why do we now continue to permit this ‘get-out’, especially as the trans-nationals can operate with impunity as long as it exists.

I agree Ian. I think the original thinking was that if companies got fined the shareholders [including directors] would feel it in their pockets. In practice these days there is an almost total disconnect between the shareholders and the companies they nominally own. Only mega fines seem to have a share price impact and that might be temporary and would only affect those about to sell shares. The companies carry on spewing out dividends as though nothing has happened. Personal liability on the part of directors [including non-execs], and possibly for some of the top management if not on the main board, would go a long way to staunching some of the irresponsible behaviour that DT mentions – it could become a long list. It will no doubt be argued that such a measure would cause companies to become more cautious and less enterprising, and inhibit people from joining company boards; good: bring it on!

What is difficult is how far down the chain responsibility can be taken. An employee at a lower level can make a decision with serious consequences. You only have to look at the history of railway accidents to see how a porter for example, by ignoring a rule, can cause fatalities. But unless thorough investigations are undertaken, blame cannot always be pinned on an individual, hence a company prosecution. However some misdemeanors, such as illegal call calls, can be pinned on those in the company that set policy,and should be heavily penalised.

But we’re talking about Corporate Malfeasance, to use a US expression. If protocols, policies and strategies lead to dangerous or bad consequences then the directors should be held severally and jointly liable.

Surely you should also hold ambassadors of countries like India responsible for all the nuisance call that come from their countries call centers. Would be a nice like earner. And hopefully force them to do something about it.

Good idea, William – so long as you’re satisfied it’s Darjeeling and not South Ealing that is the root of the problem.

Luckily I believe the phone companies that ultimately connect these scammers should know exactly where the call originate from. And most calls I get from India come from Mumbai.

Martin says:
28 August 2016

I agree that there should be changes made to include all businesses but with regard to the nefarious practice of the nuisance call I would ask why we should stop at the executives of the call centres. These places can only exist if someone is paying them to develop leads. I would suggest that the owners/executives of those businesses that pay them should also face the consequences of facilitating the committing of a crime.

That Martin, I am pleased to say was raised here previously. Whether it was earlier this year or last year I cannot recall. However I am not sure that Which? actually deeply considers the collected wisdom at all.

I would have more respect for Conversations if Which? actually wheeled out a legal beagle to explain why or why not various approaches would be workable. Having given an opinion I would then expect a creative consumer lawyer to give some options what might be done.

Which? has legal powers but it seems content to let fly at Govt. and Quangos rather than get involved at the sharp end. In an appended reply I put the information from Wikipedia.

Glancing through Wikipedia I wonder how many of you realised that Boots had been up to some serious naughtiness this year. I personally feel aggrieved that Which? has not mentioned it.

” In April 2016, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association stated that company managers were exploiting the NHS by insisting that each outlet carry out medicine use reviews, even if patients didn’t need them. The NHS pays £28 per review up to a maximum of 400 per store.[22] The Guardian stated that the General Pharmaceutical Council was poised to investigate.[23] The paper subsequently noted a letter purporting to be from an “independent pharmacist” criticising its stance on the issue which it identified as coming from one of the firm’s vice presidents.[24] Following the Guardian reports, Boots announced the departure of UK operations director, Simon Roberts, in June 2016.[25]”

Directorial liability?

If you think Which? should be a bit more militant in highlighting bad corporate practices please feel free to say so. With a bit of luck the organisation may become more like it was in 2000.

Legal action against rogue traders
In 2005 Which? was granted legal powers to bring rogue traders to account for their actions under Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002.

Unfair contract terms
Which? has statutory powers under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. Which? can seek an injunction to restrain the use of an unfair contract term by a trader against consumers.

Competition Appeals Tribunal
Which? is one of the ‘specified bodies’ who, under the Enterprise and Competition Acts, may bring proceedings before the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) on behalf of two or more consumers for damages. Which? was granted specified body status on 1 October 2005 by the Ministers of the Department of Trade and Industry. In April 2007 Which? launched its first representative action on behalf of consumers unlawfully overcharged for football shirts due to price fixing.

The Consumers’ Association has the power under The Enterprise Act of 2002 to take action on behalf of consumers, including the ability to bring a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).[24] Which? is one of eight organisations able to issue a super-complaint. The Consumers’ Association was among the first groups granted these new powers. A super-complaint can be made about any market that is not working properly for consumers. As consumers are not in the position to overcome the issue themselves, Which? can issue a super-complaint on consumers’ behalf. The OFT has 90 days in which to assess the complaint and decide what to do about it. It can reject the complaint in part or as a whole, it can launch a market investigation, take action under competition law or consumer law, or refer the market to the Competition Commission for further investigation.

Which? made its first super complaint about private dentistry in 2001.[25] It later made complaints about care homes, the Northern Ireland banking sector and credit card interest calculation methods. In March 2011 it made a super complaint[26] about unfair debit and credit card payment surcharges made by retailers. The OFT upheld the super-complaint in June 2011.[27]

For the record, Which? has also launched super-complaints about rail refunds [February 2016] and supermarket pricing [April 2016]. I don’t know what’s happened to the rail refunds super-complaint – stuck in a siding somewhere I expect; the ninety days for a response from the Regulator [the Office of Rail and Road – ORR] expired months ago.

Who are these cold callers -do we know? Are they accessible by any kind of law enforcement agency? How many fingers are in the pie when it comes to the money these callers generate, (for that’s what it’s all about)? Do the phone companies get a good revenue from them? Do they know how many lines are allocated to these callers? Do callers have unlimited access to the network? Do law enforcement agencies have powers to arrest these callers? Is the law governing these things strong enough? Does no one care that these callers have hijacked the phone network and are making life miserable for most of us? Why, oh why do we have conversation after conversation on this issue, saying that lot’s of action is being taken and yet the calls just keep coming? Which champions its campaign and reports progress here and there, but nothing really happens does it? How many prosecutions have we seen? A couple of fines to cheer about and that’s it. As I’ve said many times here, when the calls stop coming we’ve won. That’s all the proof we need.

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Prosecuting anyone for anything is difficult. And the richer the person being prosecuted is, the more difficult it becomes. Nuisance calls are one of the few areas where responsibility is simple to prove. If you don’t know know your company is making rogue calls then its because you’ve ‘made sure’ you don’t know, or maybe you’re genuinely just too stupid to be allowed to run a company like this. In other words, you’re gullible or you’re guilty.

I think Which? is concentrating upon this issue because it’s the thin edge of the wedge. Win director responsibility on this issue and then start on the harder-to-prove malfeasance, misdemeanors, and malefactions.

Let’s not start piecemeal legislation and make the legal process yet more complicated. Any company, nuisance calling or otherwise, that indulges in practices that are illegal and result in potential personal gain for employees, whether directors or not, should be subject to sanctions against the individuals directly responsible. If a change in the law is possible it should cover all such cases. Otherwise, like piecemeal tax law, we end up with even more inconsistency, confusion, loopholes and lots of money for lawyers.

Which?, I think you need to look at the whole problem of director/employee responsibility and not just try to capitalise on one headline issue when you suggest legislation.

The TPS scheme is a sick joke! I’m registered with TPS but I still get calls. If I remind them that their call is illegal, they say they will remove me from their database – but they obviously not the slightest bit concerned with the law enough to check BEFORE they rang.

I agree with you regarding the tps scheme I am still getting nuisance calls I even had one from a company wanting £99.00 to stop receiving nuisance calls telling me that they had taken over from the tps service

You can register with the tpo, but they can not do much about them if they come from outside the U K. The only way we have stopped them is with call blocker, they do not get through unless they have a genuine reason to talk to you.

I’ve had 3 phone calls today at work on my mobile from 0161 numbers – each time I use the ‘block caller’ feature however the next time its a slightly different number I’ve asked them to take me off the ‘list’ I’ve declined the number. I’ve shouted at them – but still they call!! its so invasive – I do not want these companies calls!!

Use the call blocker to block all 0161 numbers. You don’t have to enter the full number. I had the same problem where they change the last few digits but after I blocked the 0161 code it fixed the problem. No good if you have other calls from this exchange.

Good luck

A Which? petition today:
“Big bosses of nuisance calling companies are getting away with it.”………………
“That’s why we’re calling for company directors to be held personally accountable. This will stop rogue bosses closing one business and re-opening a new one to dodge paying their fines.

Over 450,000 people have backed our campaign to stop nuisance calls. Please add your name to the petition and hold these rogue bosses to account.

Sign the petition ”

The law extends to all company directors and nuisance call companies should not be singled out to make the law even more piecemeal. as far as I am aware directors of any company can send a business into liquidation, avoid paying creditors (included customers who’ve paid but not received), buy its assets back for a knockdown price, and start up again under a new name. If work needs to be done it is to clean up this sort of situation.

I’d suggest we should tackle the whole problem, not just an isolated bit of it.

I would add google to this list of nuisance callers with there “PROMOTIONS” sending if you use google! Even my asking google uk to cease sending I was told they cannot turn it off? This is a real invasion of privacy and should be stopped in its tracks. GOOGLE PLEASE TAKE NOTE! AND OFFER A SOLUTION!

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Thank you for that Duncan. Pulling the plug on google has been on my mind, but now it is made up! Sick of the tripe coming thru. This government is so greedy that we the public are continually abused.
Gordon K

TPS… USED..to work years ago, but now, I am getting recorded calls from PPI, Window Exchange, Solar Energy AND the wretched Indian Call Centres, who always ask for you by your name.
Also SILENT calls, which after 20 or so seconds, click off.

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Quite often we receive nuisance calls but they state “Number Witheld” or “Out of Area” instead of displaying the caller’s number.
This practice should also be made illegal with very heavy fines levied against the Directors/Owners of the companies concerned.

If any company director says they are unaware of the tack-ticks their staff are using in calling the public they they should be charged and sacked…..it is disgraceful that any one taking a salary as a Directory is unaware of his or her companies exploits should think before accepting the post….this also goes for the Directors of the NHS; Bank; Police etc.

Molly says:
30 August 2016

I had one call when I said I had registered with the TPS and they should not be calling, I was told That means
Thick Fu….ing Peoples Service!
Another time I said I had registered with TPS and they should no longer call me They said “WHAT! whats that”?
I have put the phone down on these people and they have called back with a few expletives…. about my sexual habits and my mother was not married to say but a few, my vocabulary has been extended somewhat with unusable phrases.
These all left me feeling violated.

So now I turn it around and they get cross………….
I have some fun, asking which accident A B or C? they struggle to come up with an answer for this one, if they do I say I was not driving on that one.
I have also had some fun leading them on, then when I have had enough i say, I need my care worker to speak to them. CLICK follows quite quickly their end… I am left smiling.
At the end on one conversation I told them I had dementia and was getting my husband you could just hear the frustration on the line…… OH dear I cut them off…. Silly me.

So do not get cross get even……

I was being driven crazy by advertising and cold calls until I switched to BT Call Guardian. The recorded voice answers the call and if they provide their name, the phone rings and you can choose whether to answer or not. I’ve not been troubled since. Robotic calls can’t reply to the recorded message. Other advertisers have to say who they are – many won’t. TBH it is the only service from BT that is worth having – their internet is execrable.