Punishment for nuisance calls companies made easier

25 February 2015

Firms that plague households with nuisance calls and text messages are set to face a crackdown by the government, it will be announced today.

Currently the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has to prove that the unwanted calls and messages are causing "substantial damage or substantial distress" before taking action, including fining the business up to £500,000.

But following a six-week consultation into the problem, the threshold is set to be removed, culture minister Ed Vaizey will tell the Commons, making it easier for companies to be punished.

The ICO, which has issued a total of £815,000 in penalties against nine firms in the past three years, had previously called for the bar to be lowered. Welcoming the news, information commissioner Christopher Graham said: "The rules around marketing calls have been a licence for spammers and scammers, and people are sick of them.

"We still need people to report these calls to us but now we can use those complaints to better target the companies behind this nuisance."

The changes are set to come into effect from 8 April.

Screening calls

Meanwhile, new research from the Debt Advisory Centre (DAC) found that 69% of Brits screen their phone calls in order to avoid nuisance calls and companies that are chasing payment.

Of those, more than half (52%) do so to avoid salespeople trying to sell them something, while one in five (19%) have even barred certain numbers from their phone in order to stop being pestered.

Ian Williams, spokesman for the DAC, said: "It is not that long ago that you didn't know who was ringing you until you picked up the phone. These days, smartphones and caller line ID allow us to see who is calling - and as a result we are more than willing to check who's calling before deciding whether to answer.

"It is very common for people with problem debt to avoid answering the phone. Those with a number of lenders trying to contact them often receive multiple calls a day adding to the stress they are already experiencing trying to manage their finances. They may feel that avoiding calls brings a temporary relief but creditors will keep on ringing and try to contact them in different ways too."

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