Company directors could be fined up to £500,000 if their business is behind nuisance phone calls, under government moves to clamp down on the problem. The law is to be changed in Spring 2017 to make directors personally liable for breaches of regulations. At the moment only firms can be fined for ignoring rules on cold calling, but many declare bankruptcy – only to open up again under a different name.

Companies offering to help to reclaim mis-sold payment protection insurance or with accident claims are behind some of the most common nuisance calls.

The change will mean the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would be able to impose combined penalties of up to £1m on company directors and their businesses for breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. The ICO has issued fines totalling almost £3.7m to companies behind nuisance calls and spam text messages.

More than 15,642 nuisance call and text complaints were made to the ICO in November. 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.”

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said companies behind the calls have “little regard for the anxiety and upset they cause all in the name of turning a fast profit”. We are inundated with complaints from people who are left shaken and distressed by the intrusion on their daily lives,” she said.