Nuisance call bosses could be fined up to £500,000

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Bosses of firms which bombard people with nuisance calls could be fined up to £500,000 under government proposals to make them personally liable.

A consultation has been launched about the plan, although the idea of fining directors was first floated by government in 2016.

Consumers received 3.9 billion nuisance phone calls and texts last year.

At the moment, only the companies themselves are liable for fines of up to £500,000 if they break the law.

But since 2010 the data protection watchdog has struggled to recover fines because some firms have gone into liquidation to avoid paying.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it had collected just 54% of the £17.8m in fines issued over the past eight years because some directors “try to escape paying penalties by declaring bankruptcy – only to open up again under a different name”.

Now, in a consultation document, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says it wants to give the ICO the “powers it needs to hold company directors directly responsible”.

Margot James, minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, 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.”

ICO deputy commissioner Steve Wood welcomed the proposals. “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.”

The consultation closes in August. However, the idea is not new. In October 2016, the DCMS also promised to clamp down on what it called “nuisance call crooks”.

The plan is thought to have been sidelined while the government concentrated on the recent Data Protection Act 2018.

Nevertheless, the intention to resurrect the idea was welcomed by consumer groups and the industry.

Alex Neill, managing director of Which? said making company directors personally responsible would be a major way to stop “dodgy practices”.

The proposals also won support from the marketing industry.

The Direct Marketing Association said it had long supported personal liability.

John Mitchison, the DMA’s director of policy and compliance, said: “It should come as no surprise that individuals willing to skirt the law when it suits them are also ready to do the same to avoid paying their debts.

“The introduction of these new laws would target the individuals profiting from these rogue businesses, making them think twice about breaking the law if there is a real threat that they may be personally liable.”