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Data watchdog to hit 'rogue' nuisance call bosses with fines up to £500,000

Wednesday, May 30th 2018 by Oprah Flash

Business directors could face a hefty personal fine of up to half a million pounds if they fail to put in place systems to prevent nuisance calls.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is proposing a new law that sees company bosses taking responsibility for any unsolicited nuisance calls that their firms make.

Research carried out by Ofcom shows that last year, Brits were inundated with 3.9 million nuisance phone calls and texts.

Since 2010, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK's data protection watchdog, has only managed to recover half (54%) of the £17.8 million in fines issued for nuisance calls. The government has acknowledged that many companies are wriggling out of the penalties by liquidating their assets and changing their names.

'Hold rogue bosses to account'

Digital minister 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 proposals give the ICO the authority to enforce financial penalties up to £500,000. The amount a company director gets fined will be determined by the ICO, based on evidence, and if a firm has multiple directors, each could be liable for a fine.

The plan was first introduced two years ago but was delayed. The BBC reported that the plan may have been sidelined while the government concentrated on the recent Data Protection Act.

Steve Wood, deputy commissioner of the ICO, said: “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.”

As part of the new plans, the government has put in place new systems to make it harder to conduct a nuisance call. This includes but is not limited to introducing a ban on cold calling, funding a Trading Standards project to install call blocking services in the homes of vulnerable people, and changing the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations so telemarketers have to provide Caller Line ID.

'Sidestep the rules'

For consumer watchdog Which?, the proposal is a step in the right direction.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “For too long, those who bombard people with calls have been able to skip fines and sidestep the rules by closing one business and opening another.

“The new proposals must result in an end to such dodgy practices so that company directors responsible for this everyday menace are properly held to account.”

Last year, Ofcom found that over a four week period, 81% of calls made to a landline were nuisance calls. A third (36%) of these were silent calls, another third (36%) were live sales calls.

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