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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?


Depending on mood and time, my favourite response is to thank the caller for calling, ask them their name and tell them that its God’s will that the rang me and they must allow Jesus into their hearts. Not allowing them to speak, I ask if they have prayed to Jesus today and then ask them to pray with me. They soon hang up! It makes a change from just saying “no thank you” or telling them that what they’re doing is illegal.

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Hateful calls and then there are the TX that I found out Vodafone were charging me to be harassed! What is that all about. I have repeatedly asked for this to stop and it did for only 1 month! We should lock up the Directors in a room for a month and re-direct all calls to them to see how they like it!

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I agree that Company directors should be held responsible for nuisance calls however I feel that such a measure would only reduce the nuisance calls that actualy orriginate in the UK.
I received about 10 to 15 nuisance calls a day on my landline I usually do 1471 to identify where the calls have come from. Many of the numbers start with the prefix 0207 which I understand is a call transfer service. It enables callers from- example, India, China or Russia to appear as if they are calling from London, in fact a number of the callers claim to be calling from London.
Holding company directors to account would not affect calls from outside the UK, however if this transfer service was only allowed within the UK and calls you’re not allowed to be transferred from outside the UK I feel this simple measure would go a long way to cure the problem.

Hi J E,

It will affect calls from outside the UK, if they are trying to sell you a product or service from a company based in the UK.

Have you seen this article about ways you can try to resolve the problem initially?

Do let me know if it helps.

I have a BT8500 Call Blocker powered by true CALL.It does a great job of blocking unwanted calls. It obviously doesn’t stop them calling just blocks them from getting through.I have had the phone for several months and it has probably blocked over 200 unwanted calls.I have noted recently that many calls have dropped off but the international calls continue at an average of one a day.

Had a recent problem with a number 08009806166 had gone out about 07.45 am and returned back home at about 10.30 am on checking my caller display found that I had missed 47 calls all from this number. They had started at 07.58 am and finished at 07.33 am 47 calls in 35 mins. Just as well I was out number number has now been blocked on my call blocker and reported to overcome.

I get virtually no calls. Perhaps its my choice of reply words. After 51yrs in the Merchant Navy I have a wide range to choose from. The next alternative is to have an Answering Machine. These nuisance callers and scammers do not like them one little bit. It puts you in charge and not them.

I also use an answering machine. I have set the machine to ring twice and then switch to the recorded answer. All my relatives and friends know this and it causes no problems. Legitimate callers always leave a message. Coincidently, the nuisance calls appear to have diminished somewhat.

Roger says:
3 September 2016

Phone companies should be required to validate the CLI they present to be one of –
1) A valid CLI identifying the caller – either a real CLI or a ‘gateway’ number for an organisation (eg the call is from someone in Which?) – this can be used to deal with nuisance callers
2) from a validated internet source (eg Skype from an ISP that provides appropriate tracking) – again can be used to deal with nuisance calls
3) a CLI marked as ‘suspect’ – might be real, or suspect (could be foreign or from internet that cannot be verified)
4) No CLI

Then individuals can choose to block all calls of type 3 and or 4 (and calls from specific unwanted numbers of type 1 & 2)
Companies (even foreign ones) failing to get through as a result of being classed as type 3 would soon arrange to get a number of type 2 if they are legitimate!

Finally phone companies should be required to provide CLI to users without charge.

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Roger says:
5 September 2016

In fact the UK introduced digital exchanges with CLI before the USA. All the information is ‘available’ – it is used by the Police. It can be made available to users (but often is only done so at a charge).
My point is that the law should be changed to require it to be available AND that spoofing should not be permitted when ‘we’ can control things – and we have a catch for those out of our control (eg some foreign entities). Currently it is too easy for anyone to present a false CLI.
We should not need to pay for a service if the information is provided to the user

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I love talking to the Windows fault people. I tell them my windows are leaking. The only problem is that their English is so poor they don’t get it. The you’ve been in an accident people in my view are criminal – actively soliciting fraud. Surely it’s just illegal. Why don’t the people in power just start using their imaginations and finding existing laws that have been broken?

These days it seems that our lawgivers and enforcers are too busy covering their own backsides to actualy do their jobs and protect us.

Marcia Percival says:
3 September 2016

I had new one today asking if I got nuisance calls .I replied yes you .I have a blocker on my phone but in error answered. He said did I realise my contract was running out. Informed him that I hd a BT phone with built in blocker. There was this coughing and a few other spluttering noises and the line went dead. So beware this is a new one me!

Some of the ‘lifestyle survey’ cold-calls quite openly declare that their purpose is to ensure that the nuisance calls you get in the future will more accurately reflect your needs and interests – they actually promise you will get more unwanted calls but each one will be more useful to you! I hope people don’t fall for this nonsense and let scammers invade their privacy by building up false relationships.

NatWest are guilty and actually deny they do not sell on names.

I often have “noo sans” calls . As I am 78 yo I try to keep them LISTNING to me then let them talk .When the SCAM starts I give them my MAX amount of abuse ,regarding their parentage, country of birth , religious beliefs sexual activities acts plus much more .I use all my derogatory vocabulary and all my swear words (repeating any times) then say “Thank you for calling , have a nice day. “I realise that the majority of callers are only trying to earn a living and that the abuse should be directed at the OWNER/S of the company ,but I like to think that the calls are recorded and listened to by whoever is in charge Many of the calls are about call blocking, supposed computer help lines, surveys(and trying to separate me from £99.99 (( but in reality they are only interested in my card details)) .You may not publish this article but I hope that someone will read it and hope that my approach (although abusive) could be adapted to send a message to —cold callers, scammers, “noo sans” callers etc .

Linda Brown says:
4 September 2016

SKY is the best provider for less nusience calls

Steve Richardson says:
5 September 2016

The only way to stop nuisance phone calls is to make the practise of cold calling domestic landlines and all mobiles illegal, with stiff personal penalties for anyone caught breaking the law. This should mean prison and large fines for company directors, and yes, fines too for the people actually making the calls, and for those supplying and installing the equipment used in this disgraceful business. It would also be useful for phone providers to be required to provide, at no cost, services that for example block international calls to put an end to those scam calls that obviously originate outside the UK.

Cold calling is already illegal, Steve, but very few get caught, big fines go unpaid as the companies liquidate, and callers operating from overseas carry on regardless. Perhaps the time has come for the government and industry to stop faffing about on this at enormous unproductive expense and issue free call-blocker phones and a free caller-ID service to anyone who wants them.

I receive an unanswered call at the same time every day (mid day) from the same company.

The number that comes up each time I access ”Last number called” is 01914 329875 which apparently originates in Durham. No idea who the company is but a few hours later I normally get a call from an Asian person which may be linked to the earlier call. In each case I put the phone down without dialogue to avoid the expected hard sell. I am not a rude person normally but nuisance calls have driven me to the action I take.

We need a simplified system to report nuisance calls to the telephone service providers and to ensure the telephone providers are held responsible as well as the nuisance call firms and that both are substantially fined if they fail to act on consumer complaints.

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So far as I can recall, none of the complaints coming in to Which? Conversation about nuisance phone calls have attributed them to big business. Cold calls about things like PPI, compo claims, and boiler scams seem to come from tinpot organisations and back-street law firms, not from public limited companies.

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The point I am making, Duncan, is that the people reporting on nuisance calls to Which? Conversation are not complaining about the kind of marketing calls you mention. I know you think that the annoying calls about PPI or car accidents or double glazing are a front for penetrative data gathering by international big business but, so far as I can see, there is no evidence of that in the UK – neither in the types of calls received nor in the form of any follow-up marketing or sales activity.

The American situation is no doubt interesting but it seems completely unconnected to what we are trying to deal with in the UK and the measures that might address it. To some extent I think it confuses the issues and will actually turn people off, which would be unfortunate since there is a serious problem to deal with here. Perhaps we in the UK are too complacent for your liking as we refuse to get worked up about these things until we hear them from a reliable source.

Tell the caller that you need to put them on hold, put your phone beside your radio, switch on to any radio programme and let them listen. Works a treat and costs them the phone call!

It’s all very well requiring these miscreants to reveal their caller ID, but most of them falsify it. Try calling one of them back – you will usually get Digital Dorothy saying you’ve misdialled or similar. So it should also be an offence to FALSIFY your CID.

Doctors and hospitals etc. usually withhold their numbers. Why? They should also be required to reveal them so you’re not tempted to let the phone ring and miss an important call. My nuisance call blocker can be set to block all withheld numbers, but that would mean the hospital’s physio department can’t get hold of me.

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Jack Madden, you say ‘the Government and regulators have taken a number of actions to tackle this scourge such as mandatory caller ID’.
1. Where are the details please of mandatory caller ID ?
2. To whom do they apply?
3. What are the penalties for non-compliance?
4. If someone isn’t complying how can you tell who they are?