The latest estimates by Ofcom show British consumers were bombarded with 3.9 billion nuisance phone calls and texts last year, but the UK data protection watchdog has revealed it only recovered 54 percent of the £17.8 million issued in fines for nuisance calls since 2010, with companies going into liquidation to avoid big penalties.
As it stands, only the businesses themselves are liable for fines of up to £500,000, and some directors try to escape paying penalties by declaring bankruptcy – only to open up again under a different name. The Insolvency Service can also disqualify people from boardroom positions and failure to adhere to this ruling could lead to a prison sentence.
But new Government proposals being consulted on will provide the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) with the powers it needs to hold company directors directly responsible with further fines of up to £500,000.
The Government has already made it easier for regulators to fine those breaching direct marketing rules, forced companies to display their number when calling customers and increased fines for wrongdoers.
Ofcom data suggests this action is working. The total complaints made to the ICO and Ofcom about nuisance calls have fallen for the second year in a row.
Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James said: “Nuisance calls are a blight on society and we are determined to stamp them out. For too long a minority of company directors have escaped justice by liquidating their firms and opening up again under a different name. We want to make sure the Information Commissioner has the powers she needs to hold rogue bosses to account and put an end to these unwanted calls.”
The new measures would support others the government has recently made, including a requirement, through the Digital Economy Act 2017, for the Information Commissioner to issue a statutory code of practice on direct marketing, lowering the legal threshold at which the ICO may impose a monetary penalty on organisations breaching PECR – a previous requirement to prove that the call caused alarm or distress was removed – and making it easier for the ICO to more effectively share information with Ofcom in relation to nuisance calls through an amendment to the Communications Act 2003.
The government has also pledged £500,000 to Trading Standards to help install call blocking devices installed in the homes of vulnerable people.
Steve Wood, Deputy Commissioner (Executive Director- Policy), Information Commissioner’s Office, said:
“We welcome these proposals from the Government to make directors themselves responsible for nuisance marketing. We have been calling for a change to the law for a while to deter those who deliberately set out to disrupt people with troublesome calls, texts and emails. These proposed changes will increase the tools we have to protect the public.”