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£1 million scandal of cold call fine dodgers: Watchdog admits firms routinely don’t pay penalties

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CAMPAIGNERS want cold callers banned completely after a probe revealed nuisance firms are dodging fines meted out by a “toothless” regulator.

Watchdog body the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has hit a dozen firms with close to £1.4 million worth of penalties in just over two years for bombarding people with cold calls and spam texts.

But our investigation into the fines which came in the aftermath of our campaign to halt the menace has found only £325,000 has been clawed back by the regulator so far.

Instead of paying up, rogue cold-call firms dodge the fines by liquidating their outfit, or by launching complex legal challenges to dodge the punitive action.

ICO bosses insist they need new powers to allow them to go after individuals behind the multi-million pound cold-calling industry so they can hit them in the pocket personally.

But David Hickson, of the Fair Telecoms Campaign, believes even more drastic steps are needed and is calling for the Government to hang up on the nuisance sector. Mr Hickson argued it is “far too easy for companies to avoid paying fines” and said:

“They are simply folding their business as this investigation has found.

“Even if we go after the bosses it would be very hard to prove a director of a company had knowledge his staff were breaking the rules on nuisance calls.

“We need tough action and I’m coming to believe that might involve the drastic step of stopping companies carrying out marketing and sales business on the phone altogether.”

Nuisance calls campaigner Richard Herman, who has taken a number of companies to court for cold-calling him, also fears companies will continue to flout the rules if they are able to dodge cash punishments.

“The bottom line is these fines aren’t working,” he said.

“They don’t seem to be halting the number of calls made.

“If things aren’t working there is no point pursuing it.

“You need to think up new ways to halt this menace and that might mean looking at drastic steps.”

New figures from the ICO have revealed 14,650 complaints were made by the public in August about nuisance calls and texts.

The figure is slightly up on the level of complaints it received at the same time last year, when 14,557 complaints were made.

It means changes to the law the UK Government introduced in April it hoped would spell the end to cold-calling, are yet to be felt.

At the time digital economy minister Ed Vaizey said for “far too long” companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and spam texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm.

He said: “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.”

Under the changes, the ICO no longer has to prove a cold call or text caused “substantial damage or substantial distress”.

It was hoped the step would result in a flood of big fines, sending out a clear message to the cold-callers that their days were numbered.

But the tough crackdown has not materialised.

The average fine dished out by the ICO to rogue operators is less than £100,000 despite it having the power to fine firms up to half a million pounds.

In its defence, the body has told The Sunday Post more action could be imminent, as it is currently investigating 60 firms for making nuisance calls.

An ICO spokeswoman said: “One of the main outcomes from our enforcement action is that nuisance calls and texts stop, but a challenge we often face with companies involved in unsolicited marketing is that businesses go into liquidation and the fines are not paid.

“We are part of a task force led by Which? that recently called for senior executives to be held to account for the behaviour of their company.”

A Parliamentary Committee found last year that householders in Britain face up to a BILLION nuisance calls every year.

The Sunday Post has been campaigning on the issue of nuisance calls since 2012.

In July, we revealed gran-of-six Barbara Gray, 61, said her beloved husband Albert had been driven to an early grave by cold callers.

She said: “My Albert was already very ill but I believe these calls hastened his death.

“It was incredibly stressful for him.

“He would be waiting to hear from the hospital and then the phone would ring and it would be a company trying to sell him something.

“It exhausted him. In my mind, these companies have a lot to answer for.”