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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?


I think the question is over simplifying the issue. Yes – if a UK based company is making unwanted cold calls penalise the Directors. If an overseas company is doing it having been outsourced by a UK company – yes, penalise the directors. But frankly that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As someone who seems to be harangued on a Friday for some reason, I find that its always people who want me to do survey or who want to fix a virus in my computer. The survey is a pain – they wont take no for an answer and can be persistent and rude. but they change their caller display number regularly so blocking doesn’t work and they are overseas and so TPS or similar is ineffective. The virus fixer is of course a scam and illegal so no likelihood of them being stopped unless caught and prosecuted. That’s my reward for being a Talk Talk customer!

TalkTalk is easily the worst. Not only for not doing enough to prevent nuisance calls, but for general customer service. They double charged me for 2 years. I didn’t notice as the direct debits were listed to other companies from whaich I purchased other services. When I asked for my money back, as they had effectively stolen £15 a month for two years without my agreement, they offered me 3 months’ worth back, in return for my signing a waiver form. I took them to the Ombudsman and won. Needless to say, I wouldn’t use their service now if it was free. Incidentally TalkTalk’s HQ is in Dublin as the best place to avoid paying UK tax.

I received some good advice from an elderly lady who kept getting the computer call. She kept them on the phone ‘while finding the computer, turning the computer on’, and anything else she could think of to keep them on the line for as long as possible. Initially it wastes your own time but I have found that as a general rule it works and at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve wasted their time and MONEY.

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“… you’ve wasted their time and MONEY… ” don’t forget that while you keep them hanging on, they’re also not bothering anyone else.

Gordon says:
6 September 2016

I use a BT phone with block capabilities, I can block calls that display unknown, not available, computerised numbers, international calls, etc if I want and although they call the actual phone bell doesn’t ring so I am oblivious to their call. You can also block standard phone numbers to a list, and you can also allow certain phone numbers through.

Mel, I politely say I am not interested goodbye and put the phone down. This is being polite but firm. It seems to work for me.

I agree. I’ve been doing this with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon cold callers for years.

Good point but I doubt the person on the ‘other end’ is bothered about having a few minutes wasted and it won’t stop them calling the next person on their list. I personally think my time is of more value than to play games in an effort to annoy and just instantly hang up.

I use my answering machine, now it has got beyond a joke, any valid messages I ring back the rest I delete!!! Simple, I have my freedom back to do what takes priority and the nuisance caller just puts the phone down after hearing the answer machine kick-in…

I tend to tell the caller that I am not the person that they are seeking (ie the householder) but that I will go and “fetch him” for them…..and just leave the phone on the side until they get bored and hang up. I get a lot fewer calls these days….maybe because of this strategy or maybe not (hard to know)

When Miss Squeaky-Voice asks if I am Mrs. P I reply that I will go and fetch her. I then just leave the phone ff the hook. This wastes several minutes of their time which saves one other person from being harassed.

make the telephone service providers responsible for these companies actions and fine them excruciatingly if they fail to monitor their numbers and block them

Good point. In addition, a technical solution to nuisance calls would be a system whereby the customer can submit a number for permanent blocking (but with a facility for unblocking in the event of a bone fide number being submitted in error), analogous to the spam and junk mail options with email.

I heartily agree – at present only a few numbers can be blocked before the system automatically deletes the first ones to make room for more.

Les, I completely agree, the telephone providers are doing little if anything to stop these calls, I suspect because it is a strong money maker for them. However, they are one of the few if not the only people who will have the contact details for these companies and could suspend service if they did not comply. Hitting the phone provider with high fines will ensure they monitor these companies closer than what they do now.

Sharron Cunningham says:
1 September 2016

Knowing first hand how upsetting these call are to the elderly, my mother nearing her eighties constantly gets these calls, confusing and upsetting her its really not exceptable to call day or night, I got rid of my landline, and now its nuisance e mails when will this stop.

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If it is not a local number and not a number that you recognise either ignore the call or accept the call but do not speak – they will soon hang up.
Nothing is urgent except family and friends .

Unfortunately that doesn’t work for us. I have overseas family & their calls show as “unavailable”. Instead I wait a few seconds to see if they ring off. We also run a business from home so can’t ignore numbers we don’t recognise. We have to answer the phone professionally. ):

I stopped answering ‘No. Unknown’ ‘Out of Area’ etc. but found I was missing calls from my Health Centre.

Yes, I’ve found that a problem too. I nearly missed an important appointment I’d been waiting months for.

Pam Rose says:
2 September 2016

Yes, definitely. After an attempted scam by someone who had my personal details and pretended to be from Talktalk, I am still being phoned by Talktalk’s technical dept. who want to “resolve” the matter, in spite of ending all association with Talktalk and telling them repeatedly that I never want to hear from them again. These calls are very distressing as they bring back awful memories which I would rather forget. Recently, I was called 3 days in succession – beyond a joke! So yes, I would especially like to see bosses like Dido Harding prosecuted.

i have the same problem with talktalk from last year.

Eileen Roberts says:
2 September 2016

What really annoys me is the deceit of the caller who is very obviously Asian, giving a false English name – presumably a company directive. When I politely tell the caller that I really do not have time to talk and wish them a good day, the least they could do is say thank you rather than rudely putting the phone down.

There is a BT8500 phone that will stop all of these calls coming from outside of the UK and allows you to vet all incoming calls, which you can then either accept the call or put a block on it. This phone has been so effective we now get no overseas nuisance calls and very rarely domestic nuisance calls.

If you get the nuisance “Windows, you have a problem with your computer call” have a bit of fun with them such as “Oh yes can you see thru them” or “what can you type of windows do you have do they slide or open out” You can keep this going for several minuets as they are so thick it takes time for them to realise they are being had.

Interesting idea. I lead these people on asking for their name and noting their number on the phone’s display window. Then I report them to Action Fraud whose tel.no. is 03001232040. Yo usually have to hang on for about 20 minutes before you get a human. I don’t know that AF actually does anything.

My wife and I have a number of elderly single lady friends alsoour doctors, hospital etc. who prefer to ignore our ringer identification number system on our phone which means that we have to answer every such call. Is there a way around this ?

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D.Smith says:
2 September 2016

Do what I have done. Get an answer machine (which incidently will record the call if I pick up the phone once the answering machine answers to talk to whoever) and use it to scan ALL incoming calls. Any call centre will put down the phone once they hear the answer machine kick in. Everyone who is important to me knows that I scan all incoming calls so they will start to talk when the phone is answered by the machine and then, once I have heard who it is, I will pick up the receiver.

I do exactly the same thing & find it works very well, I have also told all my friends & Family that I let all calls go to the answer machine, but I have missed the occasional call from the NHS because they will never leave a message, they always end the call without a message, but most of the NHS depts have my mobile number as well, so I do not miss many important calls.

good idea.

Reading Which 7by 7 why did he answer and unknown call and why didn’t he put the phone down immediately he realised it was a call he did not want of need. As for running answer when the phone rings I find I can always ring back at my convenience

Arthur McClelland says:
2 September 2016

I do not agree that company directors should become personally liable for cold calling nuisance, as this would be a difficult-to-achieve reversal in English company law. Far more effective would be to serve overwhelmimgly large fines onto the cold calling company, so it is forced into immediate bankruptcy. The directors then become disqualified to set up a new company. Or copy the French, who elegantly send a hefty estimated tax bill based on the total number of business calls made, which the company must either pay or otherwise justify in court. The telephone network providers in Britain should also face penalty for repeatedly carrying nuisance calls and for failing to provide a simple method for large numbers of subscribers to identify unwanted caller lines to their telephone provider, for future denial of phone service.

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Steve says:
4 September 2016

I agree whole heartedly with your comments.

I do like this idea.

These people seem to find ways around caller ID’s as I am getting calls with the local code in front of the number, when I answer,they are not local at all!! Liverpool Manchester and Scottish accents to name a few. Nothing wrong with the accents just the call is not local.

I contacted the Telephone Preference Service about a call from Manchester. It turned out that the number ‘was not yet even allocated.’ So someone is looking out for these new numbers and sell on the info = an inside job.

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I have a simple answer to these calls, which are almost invariably of Asian origin. I ask the women callers the colour of their underwear, and male callers the size of their genitals. Our calls are now down to less than one call per month. Problem more or less solved. It now needs action against spam and malware e-mails.

Brilliant!!!! I am seriously impressed at your ingenuity! And your sense of humour!!!

Sounds fun -when I have nothing better to do, I will ask them to answer my survey which will include such personal questions.

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I had a call about 10 days ago which interrupted me writing an important letter.
It was all about home insurance.
As this company was associated with another company who had pretty much conned me into changing my electricity supplier and it is now costing me a lot more than what I was paying previously, I made my feelings very plain
However, I was coerced into accepting an insurance proposal which had to be instigated immediately.
When I received an e-mail from this company, the first thing that annoyed me was that they had addressed the e-mail to MR ****, the second thing that infuriated me was the fact that they had spelled the surname completely wrong, despite my ensuring that they had the correct spelling.
I called them back and told them to stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine.
I had all the pathetic protestations that, oh, the documents will be correct.
Well, they sent a copy of the documents through the post.
Guess what, they had the surname spelled wrong on the documents.
I am so glad I cancelled it all.
Of course, I now have the advantage that I can report this to the TPS, as my number is registered with them

I bought a BT home guardian phone, its very good but only if you have BT phone line.
I would like to have the choice of any phone provider but know if I leave my current one all the nuisance calls will start again.
Someone must be able to stop these people.

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Presumably it’s the ‘Caller ID’ software that would be incompatible. So far I can recall, Sandra’s point is not made clear at the point of sale of the telephone. I am surprised there is not a universal protocol. Is there any verification that the BT call-blocker phones do not function on other telecom networks?

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Leonie. White says:
2 September 2016

I am sick of companies calling me and telling how to claim for accident I haven’t had. Some of them are so forceful. Although I tell them I haven’t had an accident they still insist on asking for my details of which I refused to give .. Yes , I believed that companies should be charged for nuisance calls..

Just don’t waste your time talking to them! politely (if you feel like it) tell them you’re not interested thank you goodbye hang up. Or leave them on hold whilst you make a nice cup of tea 🙂

I got a PPI refund call a few days ago. They said someone would call at my home with some £3,000 refund but I must buy £300 vouchers to give to the caller as their 10% commission. I called the Police who urged me to be careful. I said I was at that time using my very sharp swap hook to cut down hogweed in my garden. The policeman said “Don’t do anything foolish – I’m only joking”. I replied “I’m only half joking”. Five minutes later two policemen arrived. Then the PPI scammer phoned to see if I had got the vouchers. I started asking questions with the phone on loud speaker and the police listening. Then the scammer got suspicious and put his phone down. No-one called – pity – it might have been entertaining.

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As I’ve mentioned in these columns before, I’ve been with Virgin-and its predecessors- since the early ’90s.
I haggled with Virgin to get free caller ID-no problem-the normal cost is about £3 a month.
I bought a BT Décor 1200 phone online for £10. It has caller display. I can now google a new number in real time to see whether it’s worth answering-hardly any are!

I use an answerphone with caller display. If I recognise the number I answer, but if it’s withheld I listen and of course the time wasters don’t leave a message. If the call is important then the caller will start to leave a message and I then answer it. It’s not 100% but it helps.

After I had made a comment yesterday,we had to call one my wife’s elderly cousins we were surprised when he didn’t answer as he rarely goes out.
Fifteen minutes or so later he phoned us and explained thatdue to the high number of these calls he gets he no longer answers his phone but dials 1471 when the phone stops ringing and if he recognises the number he returns the call.
I don’t know if his provider charges for this service,as mine does, but the fact that he is now so worried about these calls he won’t answer the phone shows how seriously they effect some people.