Firms plaguing people with nuisance calls and texts face a clampdown by the Government as new laws taking effect from 6 April mean they can be hit with fines of up to £500,000.
At present, anyone who receives unwanted marketing calls and texts can complain to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), but even where it is proven the caller acted outside existing regulations, the law requires the ICO to also prove it caused 'substantial damage or distress' before action can be taken.
But this additional threshold will be removed from 6 April, so the ICO will no longer need to prove that a firm caused someone 'substantial damage or distress'. The move was announced after a six-week consultation on the issue. See our No more junk guide to stop spam texts, calls and mail.
The Government says under current rules, many companies making nuisance calls escape fines because there isn't enough evidence to suggest they caused the level of harm required by law. But the ICO will now have the power to intervene in more cases and implement fines of up to half a million pounds.
Further, the Government has also confirmed that it will introduce measures to hold board level executives responsible for nuisance calls and texts and it's looking to bring in a compulsory Caller Line Identification (CLI) so that all marketing callers will have to display their telephone numbers.
The move follows research from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which found that four out of five people surveyed are regularly cold called at home, with a third of them left feeling intimidated.
The ICO received 15,642 complaints related to nuisance calls and texts in November 2014, of which 2,377 were about solar panels and 1,830 about PPI.
In total there were more than 175,000 complaints related to nuisance calls and texts made to the ICO during 2014 and since January 2012, the ICO has taken enforcement action against nine companies, hitting them with fines totalling £815,000.
Separately, Ofcom has fined seven companies a total of £1.6 million for abandoned and silent calls.
How to stop spam calls
It is illegal for a UK firm to call any individual who has indicated they don't want sales calls. If you don't want to receive marketing calls, join the Telephone Preference Service register. Once registered, it takes about 28 days for calls to stop.
Complaints about nuisance calls and text can be made to the ICO.
If you're getting silent calls, which can be generated by automatic equipment in call centres, register with the SilentCall-Gard service. It has a database of UK companies using the equipment and makes it clear to them that you've requested not to be called, although you must remember to renew it every 12 months.
If silent calls continue, you can complain to Ofcom, which can fine companies up to £2 million.
For a full list of who to complain to about different types of nuisance calls and messages, see the Ofcom website.
'Harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on'
Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey says: "For far too long companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm.
"This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioner's Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on.
"We're also going to look at whether the powers the ICO have to hold to account board level executives for such behaviour are sufficient or we need to do more."