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Nuisance calls 'causing misery'

Company bosses should be held accountable for cold calls that plague consumers and make their lives a misery, a Government task force has recommended.

More than one billion n uisance calls are estimated to be made every year and the practice is causing some people considerable distress, the expert report said.

Complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) reached 18,594 for live calls and 22,072 for automated messages between April and June. Most focused on accident claims, payday loans and debt management.

Businesses must make the issue a board level matter and ministers should review the ICO's powers to hold executives to account if their company fails to comply with the rules, updating the law if needed, the Nuisance Calls Task Force said.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd, who chaired the panel, said: " Consumers have suffered nuisance calls and texts for far too long.

"They are often confused or misled by requests for consent to being contacted, so today we set out recommendations to introduce tougher rules and more action from businesses, the regulators and the Government.

"Only through concerted and coordinated action will we put people back in control of their data and help bring this modern day menace to an end."

High numbers of calls and text messages are still being sent in breach of the existing legislation, according to the report.

It said consumers often do not realise they have given permission to receive messages and called for them to be able to easily revoke consent.

Companies should ensure any sales leads they buy have been fairly and legally obtained and records of what consent has been obtained, as well as how and when, must be kept.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said: "For too long nuisance calls have plagued consumers, often at very inconvenient times of the day and in some cases leaving vulnerable people like the elderly too scared to answer the phone.

"That's why we're determined to tackle this scourge through the first ever nuisance calls action plan.

"We've already made progress including making it easier for Ofcom to share information with the ICO about companies breaking the rules, and we're currently looking at lowering or removing the legal threshold before firms could be hit with fines of up to £500,000."

Justice minister Simon Hughes said: "Unwanted marketing calls and texts can bring real misery for the people on the receiving end and this Government is determined to tackle the problem.

"We have already increased the level of fines available to punish rogue companies.

"We now want to make it easier for the Information Commissioner to take action against these companies which break the law. Those responsible should be held to account, and we will review how they are made to answer for any wrongdoing."

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