Companies found to make cold calls or nuisance texts messages could be fined up to £500,000 under a new government initiative.

A new law looks set to be introduced which will make it easier to punish firms which make unsolicited calls to people.

Under the current legislation, described as "a licence for spammers and scammers", companies can only be fined if they have caused "substantial damage or substantial distress".

Last year, there were more than 175,000 complaints made to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), about cold calls.

The government said this is particular problem for the elderly and housebound as these sorts of calls and disturbances can cause stress and anxiety.

"For far too long companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm," said digital economy minister Ed Vaizey.

"This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioner's Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on."

The decision to lower to threshold on how to punish companies responsible for nuisance calls and texts follows from a campaign by consumer group Which?

Following the announcement by the government, its executive director, Richard Lloyd 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.

"It's also good news that the government has listened to our call and is looking into how senior executives can be held to account if their company makes nuisance calls."

The changes are set to come into place before the general election in May.