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Silent Calls Clampdown

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23 October 2009

Firms which cause nuisance and distress to consumers through silent and abandoned calls could face fines of up to 2 million under Government proposals unveiled today. The current maximum penalty stands at 50,000.

Silent calls are generated when call centres that use automated calling systems (ACS) dial more numbers than there are staff available to speak to the person who picks up the phone.

In a consultation published today, the Government will seek views on plans to raise the current maximum penalty for persistent misuse to either 250,000, 500,000, 1million or 2million. This work follows commitments in the Digital Britain and Consumer White Papers to increase the penalties for companies making excessive silent calls and causing unnecessary annoyance to many people across the UK.

Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms said:

“Silent calls can cause a great deal of annoyance and distress - particularly to the elderly and vulnerable when their phone rings but no-one is on the end of the line. Often the caller’s number is withheld so the individual who has been dialled has no idea who is calling them.

“We want to send a clear message to those companies that are persistently abusing these automated calling systems that this will not be tolerated and there is a price to pay.”

Research carried out by Ofcom this year found that 49% of adults felt “very inconvenienced” by silent calls and 35% of over 65’s had received silent calls within the six months prior to June 2009.

Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan said:

“It’s important that consumers can have confidence that they are protected. These fines will act as a clear deterrent to companies – if they don’t change their ways they face a hefty fine.

“As well as causing untold anxiety, silent calls are potentially damaging to the good name of the firms which make them. Firms that eliminate them could see increased customer loyalty and reduced operational costs from handling complaints.”

Consumers can register their wish not to receive unsolicited marketing phone calls with the Telephone Preference System (TPS) – a free service which can also reduce silent calls. It is a legal requirement that companies do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS.

TPS Registration line - 0845 070 0707

Notes

1. Ofcom research into the issue, carried out between January and June 2009, found that 49% of adults were very inconvenienced by silent calls and 36% were very concerned. During the same period, 3,000 consumers contacted BT’s Nuisance Calls Bureau and about 12,000 per month listened to BT’s recorded advice.

2. The current framework for regulating silent and abandoned calls, is set out in the Communications Act 2003. The Act provides powers to Ofcom to take action against those who persistently misuse networks or services in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety, but which falls short of a criminal offence.

3. On 10 September 2008 Ofcom published a revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, which tightened up the rules concerning the usage of ACS. The previous penalty of 5,000 was increased to 50,000 in April 2006. Ofcom has since then successfully pursued nine cases against companies which were found to have generated unacceptably high levels of silent and or abandoned calls. It has issued financial penalties in each case and also has an ongoing enforcement programme.

4. The consultation document is published on Friday, 23 October 2009. The deadline for consultation responses is on 22 January 2010. The Government will publish its response to the consultation in March.

5. Apart from silent and abandoned calls other types of persistent misuse include for example number scanning, misuse of call line identification facility, misuse for dishonest gain and misuse of allocated telephone numbers. The increase in penalty that we are proposing will apply equally to all forms of persistent misuse. The majority of cases are misuse in the form of silent and abandoned calls and therefore the main purpose of this enforcement activity will be to minimise the harm caused by silent and abandoned calls.

6. Plans to increase the penalties for misuse of ACS were set out in the Digital Britain Report: www. http://www.bis.gov.uk/building-britains-digital-future

Department for Business, Innovation & Skill

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by: creating the conditions for business success; promoting innovation, enterprise and science; and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. To achieve this it will foster world-class universities and promote an open global economy. BIS - Investing in our future.


About the Author

Crown Copyright. Material taken from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Reproduced under the terms and conditions of the Click-Use Licence.



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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-10-23 20:32:52 in Business Articles

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