The new regulations will help watchdogs clamp down on companies which cause distress through unwanted calls and messages, after removing a clause which requires authorities to prove that a firm has caused “substantial damage or substantial distress” before launching action.
Plans to introduce mandatory caller line identification so that all marketing callers will have to display their telephone numbers, as well as proposals that would hold company bosses accountable for nuisance calls, are also under consideration.
Lib Dem Edinburgh West MP Mike Crockart, who has led a three-year campaign to introduce the legislation, has been pushing for action against scammers calling “vulnerable” people.
But, despite persuading ministers to introduce stiff fines, he has asked Prime Minister David Cameron to go further with a national call blocking scheme.
During exchanges in PMQs, Mr Crockart said: “I have harangued the Prime Minister on many occasions to do more on nuisance calls, so it is right today that I thank the Government for the announcement that was made on the subject by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning.
“Of course, vulnerable consumers will still be targeted today and tomorrow by vicious scammers, who will pay no heed to the announcement. I therefore ask him politely to do all he can to help me set up a national call blocking scheme to protect vulnerable consumers in his constituency and in mine.”
Culture minister Ed Vaizey said the new regulations will increase the number of cases that can be pursued. So far, only nine have had enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) since January 2012, with fines imposed totalling just £815,000.
Mr Vaizey said: “For far too long, companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm.
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“This change will make it easier for the ICO to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on.
“We’re also going to look at whether the powers the ICO has to hold to account board-level executives for such behaviour are sufficient or we need to do more.”
Around four out of five people are regularly cold-called at home and around one-third are left feeling intimidated, according to research by the Which? consumer group.
Householders can register for the Telephone Preference Service, which should block unsolicited calls – but this does not apply to mobile numbers or text messages. It is also difficult for the authorities to prevent calls from call centres based overseas.
More than 15,642 nuisance call and text complaints were made to the ICO in November, with 2,377 relating to solar panel calls and 1,830 to PPI. Over the year, complaints totalled more than 175,000.
The government last year set up a nuisance calls task force which made 15 recommendations to tackle unwanted calls and texts.
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, who chaired the task force, said: “We welcome the government making good on its promise to change the law so it’s easier to prosecute nuisance callers. These calls are an everyday menace blighting the lives of millions so we want the regulator to send a clear message by using their new powers to full effect without delay.”