Ofcom increases fines for silent phonecalls -

Companies which fail to comply with new "silent call" regulations could face a fine of up to £2 million.

That's the warning from Ofcom, which tomorrow puts in place rules designed
to prevent people being harassed by repeated silent calls from the same company.

We've known about these new rules for a while now. Back in December, Ofcom listed silent calls as one of the key complaints in a survey. At the time it said that despite an overall decline, complaints about silent calls had jumped from 6,600 in 2009  to over 9000 in 2010 to date.
Those who have been found guilty of this in the past include Barclaycard, which was fined the then maximum £50,000 in September 2008.

And Barclaycard once again popped up on our radar last week when we discovered it had been "bullying" some of our readers using automated services to "remind" them every hour that they owed money. Ofcom said at the time that although persistent calls could lead to a fine, companies that used these kinds of calls as payment reminders had a leg to stand on.

The watchdog has also found that over 70 percent of people have received two or more calls in a day from the same company. These silent calls were often over a period of days or even weeks.

Ofcom believes that this is mainly due to technology used by call centre operators to detect answer machines. This can mistake a ‘live’ consumer for an answering machine and cut off the call without the person hearing anything, resulting in a silent call.

Ofcom believes that this is mainly due to technology used by call centre operators to detect answer machines. This can mistake a ‘live’ consumer for an answering machine and cut off the call without the person hearing anything, resulting in a silent call.

The watchdog has now written to the call centre industry spelling out the regulations which place restrictions on the use of automated dialling equipment.

The new rules will prevent a company using answer machine detection equipment more than once a day if an answer machine is ‘detected’ on the first attempt. This would mean that consumers currently worst affected should no longer receive repeated silent calls from the same company over the course of a day.

Companies will also be monitored by Ofcom, which expects the new rules to help lower the
overall number of complaints it receives.

Ernest Doku, communications expert at uSwitch.com, said: “Consumers have the right to own a telephone in their home without being too scared to pick it up when it rings. Silent calls have brought unjustifiable inconvenience, distress and even fear to consumers’ lives for far too long. This marks the return of privacy to people’s homes.

“We believe that the new rules will go a significant way towards stamping out this appalling practice that gives the call centre industry such a bad name. Unlike some regulations, this is not just an empty threat. The £2 million penalty that Ofcom is imposing on anyone that breaks the rules should be enough to force many companies to change their practice. This cannot happen soon enough.”

Last September, Parliament approved an increase in the maximum financial penalty available to Ofcom to use to combat silent and abandoned calls, from £50,000 to £2 million. Ofcom intends to use the full extent of the new financial penalty if appropriate.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Silent and abandoned calls can cause significant consumer harm. Ofcom has given sufficient warnings to companies about silent calls and is ready to take appropriate action against those companies who continue to break the rules.”

Companies that have fallen foul of the laws in the past include Abbey National, which was slappes with a £30,000 fine, Toucan which had to shell out £32,500 and Carphone Warehouse, which got a £35,000 fine.