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

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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?


TPS certainly hasn’t worked for me. I answered SIX calls yesterday all from sales people wanting my views. I got pretty angry after a while and tthe last two I dialled 1471 and got 0143 and 0145 numbers. I would like to know how I can now complain and to whom. I have resorted to letting my phone ring until the answer machine comes on.

Hi Barbara,

When did you register with TPS? It takes 28 days for it to start working. If not, here is a guide on how to complain:

Please help by keeping all cold callers on the line as long as possible. This wastes their time. My record is 17 minutes and enraged the cold caller. Even if you are busy it is quick to say ‘Hold on’ and then put the phone aside.

Thing is, it’s not the fault of the caller but their bosses. Which is why we want to take action against the directors not the ‘little guys’. If this happens again please follow these steps:
…then we can add it to the weight of our evidence to get MPs to take action and stop it happening to others.

i suffer with c.o.p.d and every time i have to answer the phone i get out of breath its the foreign call centers that are worse they must think we are stupid when they say my name is john or sally etc

That’s awful, Robert. Would you be willing to talk to us about it so we can feature your story on our site to show how damaging this problem is for some people’s health?

Stacey says:
1 September 2016

TPS didn’t work for me either on my land line or mobile, I still get loads of these calls in a day, including the silent “test” calls which I’m pretty sure they do to see if you’re in so they can ring you all the more. Now I’ve even started getting them saying they’re my internet provider and that someone in another country is using my IP address, so I rang my actual internet provider to ask them about it, and they added a call barring service to my landline, but now that doesn’t stop them because they just use a new number each time

Hi Stacey,

How long ago did you register with TPS? It takes 28 days to come into effect and after that you have to report the miscreants. Here’s a guide:
also if you use our reporting tool that would be a great help, as we can build up a bank of evidence to prompt MPs to do something about it.

I have been with TPS for many years. If I bother to answer the phone I point out that I am on TPS to which the answer has been: oh you were not on our list; we did not see you so you must be out of date; we do not bother with TPS; ……….. On the other hand like some others I have wasted their time and pointed out that I am doing that because they are wasting my time, I have done realistic barks down the phone whilst I admonish ‘Fido’ and tell him he cannot eat phone callers, I babble away in another language. Often though I cannot be bothered to answer the phone, as others have commented, if there is an important message it can be left on the answering machine.

Grrrrr that’s just wrong. I’m sorry. Have you ever reported them using the tool? It would be helpful for us to know who the culprits are. But I know it’s probably tedious.

Philip Caldicott says:
1 September 2016

Company Directors should be held accountable, as they are the ultimate driving force to their staff to make the cold calls, but they are also the ones who will reap the biggest financial benefits of the cold calls.
I do not feel that this will entirely solve the problem, because if we are dealing with a rogue business who will close and then reopen under a different name, then surely, if they get rid of their Company Director and reinstate someone else new in their place, then the problem still exists.
I do not know how far the law goes with the prosecution of the Company Director, but it must remain with the individual whether they are working at the business and even if the Company Director’s services are dispensed with.
There is also the need to force a company to pay their fines and in the event of this company no longer operating, then the individuals concerned should still be held accountable for the distress they have caused.
I do not know the exact details of how to start a business, but surely there has to be a legal process to ensure that someone who starts a business is legally entitled to and legally allowed to?
Is there not an official process or business register that would contain the photo and copies of various forms of identification of individuals who start up a business?
If there was such a database that kept all of this data, then general public or a legal representative can access this information and therefore rogue operators can be minimised or even eliminated from operating!
I am certain that this is not a eureka moment and this process should already be in place, so I have the feeling that if it is not already operating, then someone somewhere has already decided that this will not be used, possibly because of the data protection act or because of financial cost.
In the name of justice and all that is right and true, surely it is time to stop rogue business’ operating around legal loopholes and harassing the general public.

Over this past week I have started to recieve none stop niusance calls ending in 111 each time I block they change the beginning of the numbers but still end in 111. Up to 4 times a day. Something needs to be done urgently, and our suppliers also need to be made to do a lot more, as we pay a monthly fee to them

Hello Mr walker,
I’d be interested to know if you followed the steps in this guide on how to stop the calls:
Let me know if you already did and if not, how it went.

Remember that time is the stuff that LIFE is made of. They are not just wasting a bit of our time they are stealing a chunk of our lives! – Make them accountable!

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Vince says:
1 September 2016

The biggest problem is that you can’t find them even some callers are outside of the UK or number withheld

Even if the calls are made from outside the UK, you can still report them, if the call centre was hired by a company with a presence in the UK.
Have a look at this: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/contactfaq.php – it’s about the 8th question down.
There’s also our guide to stopping nuisance calls, here:

I have a “CPR Call Blocker” installed which does stop a lot, but not all calls. However, I can either ignore the call if I don’t think it’s genuine (in which case it will not block it) or I can press a button to block it permanently.
The unit is pre-programmed with a large number of known scam numbers and I can add about 500 more.
The (British) company now have an even larger capacity unit on sale but until I have used my ones capacity, I will not be upgrading.
This problem is becoming really serious nationwide and I’m sure with the current technology, the authorities must be able to do more to stop it.
I must say if you are inclined, (and have time) you could have some fun with these obviously Asian callers who introduce themselves as “Eric” or “John” etc.
A friend of mine once stopped a caller in his tracks by saying “Excuse me but can I ask you a question?”
When he agreed, she said, “Do you like Jaffa-cakes?” He hung up!

Hi John,

I’d be interested to know if you’ve seen our article on stopping the nuisance calls:
please let me know whether it helps you.

Marilyn says:
1 September 2016

The solution I have found that helps a lot is to leave any number that I don’t recognise to go to my answerphone. If the call is important to me a message will be left. Most of the time my answerphone lets me know “the other person has cleared” . I then go in to my phone and block the number. I also get calls from ‘Out of the area’ which I can’t do anything about so I just ignore them. The number of nuisance calls I receive has reduced considerably.

I am registered with TPS and realise you have to report these people but I am also ex directory so how the hell do they get my number. Someone must be passing it around. I would go further than the Which campaign and ban cold calling completely. If i want to buy something then I will contact the company myself, I do not want them pestering me with their phone calls. This cold calling practise is of no benefit to the general public and the so called jobs it supposedly creates end abruptly when the company decides to move on . It has happened in my area. These companies are a damn nuisance and the sooner they are banned completely the better.

The fines do not go far enough to stop these calls. The company’s that make these calls should be made to pay dearly they just pick numbers out of a hat and hope some poor person is going to respond. The elderly and the one’s who seem to targeted the most.

I am sick of these calls – especially when I am abroad!!!!! I am ex directory, registered on the TPS, have reported to OFCOM but still they keep coming. When I have had the time I even went through to talk to someone about the ‘accident’ I never had. It took them ages to realise I was having them on and kept them from phoning some other poor person. But I am still fed up with this. The govt needs to do something about this massive problem….

Hi Lindsey,

Have you tried using our reporting tool for these calls?
…doing that will help us build up a bank of evidence to take to MPs and regulators to persuade them that the current rules just aren’t enough.

Hang ’em high

Janie-Blue says:
1 September 2016

Sometime last year I was getting nuisance calls every single day without fail – which went on for many weeks – so much so that it was horrendous (these were coming from abroad) ++ And I was constantly giving them a terrible ear-bashing, with no holds barred (like “if words could kill” type of response) LMAO ++ But however, as I would rightly imagine that nearly every other person would be inclined to greet these type of callers/companies in exactly the same way as myself (more or less) – then in this case, just what “money”do they think can be had by this, and what is it exactly that they think can possibly be gained or achieved from their methods (I mean in the event of constantly being met with UFO in their lugholes)? Very strange ++ Also, are they so dumb that they haven’t even realised it yet, that those calls are “costing” them money, and that they are “losing” rather than “gaining” from it? Really can’t get my head around these types.

I discovered recently that I immediately received a number of both scam calls (now mainly international) and spam emails (containing trojan software, worms, etc) each time somebody uses the ‘GOOGLEMAIL.com’ version of my email address which was previously hacked.
Since using the abbreviated ‘GMAIL.com’ version of my email address, and training my contacts to do the same, the spam and scam telephone calls have gone to almost nothing, and only recur when somebody inadvertently uses the old, hacked, googlemail.com version of my email address.
I have no idea why this results in the generation of scam emails and telephone calls, but I do believe GOOGLE, and other Email providers should investigate how hacking of an email address results in these, and put a stop to them.

IF ANYONE KNOWS HOW I can raise this with GOOGLE, please let me know, as my elderly mother was plagued by these calls just when my father went into hospital following a stroke. She had to answer the telephone each time in case it was the hospital. It was not only a risk to her health and safety in her late 80s as she rushed for several weeks from one end of the house to the other to pick up the phone, but added an appalling amount of anxiety to the trauma of the situation. It was surprising she did not also suffer a heart attack with the stress.
She is still plagued with such calls, but Caller Display together with a re-education that one doesn’t HAVE to pick up the telephone whenever anybody rings, has made a huge difference and empowered her.

Hi Rosemary,

What happened to your family sounds truly awful. I don’t know of any technical way that an email address could be linked to your mother’s phone number in such a way, so I can only think it must be a strange coincidence.

Have you seen our guide to stopping nuisance calls, by any chance?
I would be interested to know if the flood of calls to your family starts to slow following these steps.

Hope everything continues to get better for you.

With respect, you have not quite understood the situation, and this is not a coincidence, even if you yourself cannot think of how an email address can be linked to a telephone number.
All publicly available precautions, such as TPS, have been put in place.
Your sympathy, while appreciated, will not solve the issue for others.
I would be very grateful if Which did not dismiss it as coincidence, but take my analysis seriously and investigate whether other users might recognise the problem.
In the meantime, as mentioned, some way of raising this with Google would be most helpful.

FYI Google Contacts – https://www.google.com/contact/. Hopefully, that may get somewhere.

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I am registered for TIPS but it makes no difference. I have altered my call service with TalkTalk to automatically block all withheld numbers trying to call my phone but then I get something that says “Out of Area”..(I don’t answer them obviously). I have a ex-directory number so how did they get my number in the first place? I do have Caller ID but unless I am near the phone I have to get up to answer it so don’t always see who’s calling so I get off the sofa, walk across the room, pick it up to answer it & I get someone with a very broad Indian accent who says they are called Dave or Gary – yeah very likely – and then they ask to speak to Mrs So&so. If I am in the mood & feel like playing silly bu**ers I tell them that my mother died in 1986 & my brothers’ 2 ex-wives don’t live with me so there is no Mrs So&So living here but that I am Ms So&so & then I ask how they got my number, they are obviously not really called Dave with that accent & could they please remove my number from their database. The thing is because my phone is programmed not to accept withheld numbers the only way they can get through is to show a number but interestingly enough if I immediately call the number that is shown to have been used to call me, I get “this number is not in service”……

Hi Norah,

When did you register for TPS, as a matter of interest? It takes 28 days to take effect. You also have to report companies that ignore it. Here’s a guide:
…I’d be interested to know if following these steps helps at all.

It is worth checking your local authority’s Electoral Register to see if you are on the Public Register.
In 2014 or 2015, for the annual electoral registration returns, for some reason, Local Authorities (eg Hammersmith and Fulham) were given the legal green light to change all the declarations on Electoral Returns to ‘Available on the Public Register’ by default, even if for years one’s original declaration not to be on the public register had been rolled over. By chance, I happened to notice that mine had been changed and had my name removed immediately from the public register.
This simple act by LAs meant that the address details of anybody, including no doubt the majority of the most vulnerable, who would not have spotted the change, were immediately publicly available and purchasable by commercial companies. These commercial companies would then have easily been able to use the internet to discover previous telephone numbers, etc, even if they are now ex-directory.
Local Authorities are supposed to be the guardians of their citizens best interests, and particularly of their most vulnerable clients. What I have experienced more recently is their sly ways of making a buck or ten!

TPS does not mean a thing such that these calling companies will casually state word such as “we do not do that” or “it does not bother us”.

Recognising a call centre from a bona-fide call can be quite simple. For a start there is a delay before the calling person speaks demonstrating that they are using a multi-dial device and have to go for whoever answers 1 of 8 (possible) calls first. Then there is the background noise so typical of call centres, and last but not least, a high probability that the caller will not have English as their first language whether the call originates in Britain or not.

I always say something to give the impression that I no longer reside there such as, “he is in prison” or “he is dead or even, “he has moved away” in the hope they strike me off their never ending lists.

That’s terrible! The problem with TPS is that it does rely on people reporting companies who ignore it. Have you tried reporting these scoundrels using our tool?
This helps us to build up a pool of evidence to persuade the government to step in and do something more about this.

Gosh , I had not realised that there was not enough proof already.

My belief was that it was no a matter of proof but an actual lack of desire. However I see no reason why Which? should not be more actively involved and provide a paper on the subject having consulted with the White hats of the hacking world on the problem.

They might also cover how other counties deal with this problem by laws and by commercially offered options. One thing surely must be clear to all is that the originator is paying a fee to a telco somewhere and that telco has to pay overseas telcos or ISP’s. SO what grounds can we have for attack from there.

The people paying for the leads in the UK, that is those who are not plain spamming, should be entrapped and fined for encouraging this highly anti-social business. There is almost certainly no specific law but a creative lawyer should be able to find something – if not then legislate.

Lastly we come to the organisations that sell personal details to spammers amongst whom are charities and on-line pharmacists – these having featured in the press and been treated lightly.

Overall Which? given the millions of income can you employ someone[s] to write a definitive quick and dirty overview of the problem and send it out to members by e-mail. Then we could all know we are equally knowing of the difficulties in nailing the problem.

P.S. It is fairly obvious we have some intelligent people who contribute so perhaps using them additionally would be useful. I know from my own research that other countries suffer but certainly the Canadian experience can be a useful lesson.

Carol says:
1 September 2016

The automated calls are fairly easy to get rid of as for most of them you can press 9 (usually) at the end to stop all calls from that particular company. You have to listen right the way through, but only the once and they generally stop. For ones with a human on the end then you can politely ask them to please remove your number from their lists. If you ask, then this usually happens; if you don’t ask then you will more than likely get someone else ringing when they work down the listings. This tip was from Martin Lewis and has worked fairly well for us. Trouble is the subject matter moves on and changes so the problem is never ending. Our latest is an Indian accent telling us that we have had trouble with our computer – had this a few years ago but seems to have come back again.

Hi Carol,

Thanks for that tip about pressing #9 – really useful!

Have you seen this article with more tips on how to stop the calls?
Do let me know if it helps you.

I am not sure the ‘press 9’ tip is sound advice. It has been reported on Which? Conversation many times that doing this in response to automated nuisance calls (a) confirms that the number is an active residential line, (b) can lead to the number being farmed out to other nuisance callers, and (c) might lead to a premium rate number before the call terminates.

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By no stretch of the imagination should we put nuisance call perpetrators under the Big Business category! I appreciate that you think that by not having acted against nuisance callers more effectively, Ofcom [and – by extension – the government] have appeared to condone nuisance calling as a legitimate business activity but I do not personally agree. I just think it is so far down the agenda, and pushed down even further by the EU-exit priorities, that it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. I admit there is a most unfortunate consequence – that certain big businesses like BT are profiting from this nuisance traffic – but I would not accuse the government of such a deliberate and conspiratorial intention.

I also do not think Which? is spinning a particular “party line” here; Rachel was merely acknowledging Carol’s ‘Press 9’ tip – not endorsing it as an official recommendation.

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I agree there is a two-way interaction between government and business, and in my opinion that is a good thing given the economic importance of industry and commerce in so many ways – we can no longer survive on farming and fishing and making wicker baskets. Conservative governments will usually have plenty of leading MP’s and Ministers who have personal and direct experience of the business world, running companies, and understanding the significance of business; conversely, they will have less knowledge of the public services although many might have served on local authorities or hospital trusts or school governing bodies. What, of course is lacking in the House of Commons is academic rigour! But the primary function of any political party is to win elections and then govern responsibly and that usually means adjusting the political rhetoric to meet changing circumstances and unforeseen situations, as well as in reaction to the words and intentions of the Opposition. This will never be a perfect process and no advanced democracy is without blemish but it’s what we’ve got and we need to make the best of it.

Government ministers have to put any shares they hold in businesses in a blind trust so that they cannot play the markets through their departmental policies; that is not to say that they are ignorant of their investments and will not incline in their favour. That just cannot be helped but their interest is fairly transparent and we have a sharp media tradition that is alert to these opportunities. A manifesto is no more than a policy outline, an illustration of a desired scenario: we are all grown-up enough to know that it is not a binding commitment and that failure to implement every line is not a case of lying or fraud – nobody believes political intentions 100% so they have not been deceived, merely disappointed perhaps. Some policies get dropped [not most] and they usually fall with a heavy thud that vibrates throughout the media.