Directors of companies that plague consumers with nuisance calls will be slapped with fines of up to £500,000 from spring 2017 after the introduction of tough new rules.
As things stand only firms behind nuisance calls can be fined, but because many of these businesses try to escape paying out by declaring bankruptcy – only to open up again under a different name – the Government has given the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) powers to hold company directors directly responsible.
This will mean that the cost in penalties for making annoying unsolicited calls could run into millions of pounds, as companies will still be liable for fines of up to £500,000, while individual directors could each be fined the same amount if found to be in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
This new stance is the latest in a number of Government measures to clamp down on nuisance callers – it follows the introduction of rules in May this year that force companies to display their caller ID and comes hot on the heels of work with Trading Standards to provide call blocking devices to vulnerable people.
Commenting on the introduction of fines for company bosses, Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock says: "Nuisance callers are a blight on society, causing significant distress to elderly and vulnerable people.
"We have been clear that we will not stand for this continued harassment, and this latest amendment to the law will strike another blow to those businesses and company bosses responsible."
For more info on how to stop spam calls to your mobile or home phone, see our Stop Cold Callers guide.
Fines for nuisance calls and texts approaching £4m
To date, the ICO has issued fines totalling almost £3.7m to companies behind nuisance marketing – this year alone, the ICO has fined firms responsible for more than 70 million calls and nearly eight million spam text messages.
More than 114,000 nuisance calls and texts have been reported to the ICO between 1 January and 30 September this year.
How to stop spam calls and texts
It's 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 (TPS) register. Once registered, it takes about 28 days for calls to stop.
You can also join a separate TPS database to dodge spam texts. To register for free, simply text 'TPS' followed by your email address (which is required to verify your identity, should you need to make a complaint) to 85095.
Complaints about nuisance calls and texts 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 communications regulator 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.
What does the ICO say?
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham says: "The people running nuisance call companies have little regard for the anxiety and upset they cause, all in the name of turning a fast profit.
"We are inundated with complaints from people who are left shaken and distressed by the intrusion on their daily lives.
"We're quick to fine the companies responsible, but we've been speaking to the Government about going further than that because we must do all we can to help protect people from these calls.
"Making directors responsible will stop them ducking away from fines by putting their company into liquidation. It will stop them leaving by the back door as the regulator comes through the front door."