Regulation  

Nuisance calls persist as govt prepares new fines

Nuisance calls persist as govt prepares new fines

Seven in 10 people have received at least one unsolicited call to their landline or mobile in the past month, according to new research from Which.

The consumer group surveyed more than 2,000 people in August, concluding that one in 17 (6 per cent) have been scammed by a cold caller.

Which is calling on the government to give new powers to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to introduce fines of up to £500,000 for company bosses whose firms plague people with unsolicited cold calls.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport launched a consultation on this matter in May, which closes today (21 August).

The consumer group argued the government had announced these measures in October 2016, saying they would come into effect in the spring of 2017, but it still hasn’t introduced them.

Under the current rules, enforcement action can only be taken against the company itself, rather than any company directors.

"Many organisations that are penalised try to wriggle out of paying financial penalties by declaring bankruptcy – only to sidestep the law and open up again under a different name," Which alleged.

The ICO revealed in May it had recovered a mere 54 per cent of the £17.8m in fines issued for nuisance calls since 2010 because companies went into liquidation to avoid big penalties.

If the new fines are introduced, companies may have to pay a maximum of £1m if both firm and director are punished.

Steve Wood, deputy commissioner at the ICO, said in May the regulator had been calling for a change to the law to deter those who deliberately set out to contact people with troublesome calls, texts and emails.

similar measure was presented to Parliament in January by Stephen Kerr, Conservative MP for Stirling, in a 10-minute motion.

He is due to present a bill designed to ban nuisance calls in October, which calls for three measures to be introduced: making penalties more robust to widen the way they can be applied; making directors of companies personally liable for fines for nuisance calls; and tighten up on the definition of a nuisance call. 

This follows latest estimates by Ofcom showing British consumers were bombarded with 3.9 billion nuisance phone calls and texts last year.

maria.espadinha@ft.com