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Company bosses could be made personally liable for nuisance calls

The Information Commissioner has said that company heads avoid fines by putting their businesses into liquidation.

The bosses of companies that make nuisance calls could be fined up to £500,000 under proposals to make them personally liable for breaking the law.

Currently only businesses are liable for fines of up to £500,000, and some directors try to avoid paying the penalty by declaring bankruptcy, only to open up again under a different name, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.

Under new proposals, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be given stronger powers to hold company directors directly responsible with further fines of up to £500,000.

The ICO revealed last week that it had recovered more than half (54%) of the £17.8 million in fines issued for nuisance calls since 2010.

In a statement in October 2016, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said making company directors responsible would stop them “ducking away from fines by putting their company into liquidation”, adding: “We are inundated with complaints from people who are left shaken and distressed by the intrusion on their daily lives.

“We’re quick to fine the companies responsible, but we’ve been speaking to the Government about going further than that because we must do all we can to help protect people from these calls.”

In 2016/17, the Information Commissioner issued fines for nuisance marketing of more than £1.9 million to 23 companies.

The latest proposals follow estimates by Ofcom suggesting that British consumers were bombarded with 3.9 billion nuisance phone calls and texts last year.

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.”

ICO deputy commissioner Steve Wood 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.”

The consultation closes in August.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home 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.”

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