Own-initiative investigation: Monitoring and enforcement of principles to reduce harm caused to consumers by silent and abandoned calls

CW/00905/06/06

Complainant: Ofcom own-initiative investigation
Investigation against: Persons or organisations causing annoyance to consumers through the making of silent or abandoned calls or other forms of persistent misuse
Case opened: 22 June 2006
Issue: Persistent misuse of electronic communications network(s) or service(s)
Relevant instrument: Sections 128 to 131 of the Communications Act 2003

Update note: 7 April 2016

Ofcom has issued a notification to Verso Group (UK) Limited (“Verso Group”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of Ofcom’s ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 17 May 2015 and 3 July 2015 (the “Relevant Period”); Verso Group persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • Making multiple abandoned and silent calls from its call centres during the Relevant Period.
  • Making one or more repeat calls to specific numbers within 24 hours, when a call had been identified by Answer Machine Detection equipment as being picked up by an answer machine.

Verso Group has until 5pm on 12 May 2016 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note 1 : 17 December 2015

Ofcom has issued a notification to Organise Consulting Ltd under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the "Act") as part of Ofcom's ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 23 March 2015 and 10 May 2015 (the “relevant period”) Organise Consulting Ltd persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • making multiple abandoned calls from  its call centre on twenty six separate 24 hour periods during the relevant period;
  • making multiple silent calls; and
  • failing to include details of an appropriate number in the information message.

Organise Consulting Ltd has until 25 January 2016 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note 2 : 17 December 2015

Ofcom has issued a notification to Mr Aurangzeb Iqbal, trading as The Hearing Clinic, under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the "Act") as part of Ofcom's ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 22 February 2015 and 11 April 2015 (the “Relevant Period.)” Mr Iqbal persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • making multiple silent calls from his call centre during the Relevant Period.

Mr Iqbal has until 25 January 2016 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 15 September 2015

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to XS Remarketing Ltd on 24 August 2015 under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003. This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of Update Note

Update note – 20 August 2015

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of XS Remarketing Ltd, trading as Debt Masters Direct (“Debt Masters Direct”), following the issuance of a notification to the company on 18 May 2015, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that Debt Masters Direct, in all respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 9 March 2014 and 28 April 2014.

Ofcom has decided to impose on Debt Masters Direct a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £150,000. The penalty is imposed on Debt Masters Direct for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 9 March 2014 and 28 April 2014.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; Debt Masters Direct’s representations; steps taken by Debt Masters Direct for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; Ofcom’s policy statement on persistent misuse and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the penalty notification will be made available in due course.

End of Update Note

Update note – 29 June 2015

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to XS Remarketing Ltd on 18 May 2015 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003. This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of Update Note

Update note – 12 June 2015

Ofcom remains committed to the prevention and reduction of annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers may suffer from abandoned and silent calls; and other forms of misuse of electronic communications networks and services. Ofcom considers that the repeated making of abandoned and/or silent calls constitutes persistent misuse for the purposes of section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”). Ofcom also considers that other forms of conduct including, for example, misuse of Calling Line Identification (CLI) facilities, may constitute persistent misuse.

In March 2011 we published a general update that stated we were reviewing complaints data to decide whether it would be appropriate to take enforcement action in respect of particular companies. Since this time we have issued penalties under section 130 of the Act to HomeServe plc, RWE npower PLC, TalkTalk Telecom Limited, Ageas Retail Limited, MYIML Limited, Green Deal Savings Limited and Sambora Communications Incorporated.   

We are also reviewing Ofcom’s abandoned and silent calls guidelines to explore whether any changes would be appropriate. We aim to consult on any proposals for changes to the guidelines later this year.

Our activities in this area are ongoing. For this reason and on the basis that Ofcom is still receiving a considerable volume of complaints in respect of silent and abandoned calls, and other forms of misuse of networks and services, Ofcom has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement, which includes both formal and informal action, for a further period of twelve months.

End of update note

Update note: 19 May 2015

Ofcom has issued a notification to XS-Remarketing Ltd, trading as Debt Masters Direct (“Debt Masters Direct”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of Ofcom’s ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 9 March 2014 and 28 April 2014 Debt Masters Direct persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • Making multiple abandoned and silent calls from its call centre during each of 37 separate 24 hour periods.
  • Making one or more repeat calls to specific numbers within 24 hours, when a call had been identified by Answer Machine Detection equipment as being picked up by an answer machine.
  • In the event of an abandoned call, failing to include details of an appropriate number in the information message to enable the called person to return the call and decline further marketing calls from the company.
  • Failing to suspend or adjust its dialler settings to reduce the risk of repeat abandoned and silent calls over 7 separate 24 hour periods, during which time it was trying to fix an error.

Debt Masters Direct has until 5pm on 15 June 2015 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 30 January 2015

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Sambora Communications Incorporated on 18 December 2014 under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note: 19 January 2015

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Green Deal Savings Limited on 1 December 2014 under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 8 January 2015

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of Sambora Communications Incorporated (“Sambora Communications Incorporated”), following the issuance of a notification to the company on 16 June 2014, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that Sambora Communications Incorporated had, in both of the respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 1 September 2013 and 19 October 2013.

Ofcom has decided to impose on Sambora Communications Incorporated a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £8,000. The penalty is imposed on Sambora Communications Incorporated for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 1 September 2013 and 19 October 2013.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; Sambora Communications Incorporated’s representations; steps taken by Sambora Communications Incorporated for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; our policy documentation entitled Tackling abandoned and silent calls: Statement and revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010, published on 1 October 2010; and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the penalty notification will be made available shortly.

End of update note

Update note 1: 7 January 2015

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to MYIML Limited on 2 December 2014 under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note 2: 7 January 2015

On 19 November 2014, a winding up order was made in relation to Redress Financial Management Limited, formerly trading as Redress Claims. Consequently, Ofcom has today closed its investigation into the company. Further details of the order can be found on the Gazette’s website (https://www.thegazette.co.uk/notice/2235884).

End of update note.

Update note 1 : 10 December 2014

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of MYIML Limited (“MYIML”), following the issuance of a notification to the company on 28 July 2014, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that MYIML had, in both of the respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 16 December 2013 and 3 February 2014.

Ofcom has decided to impose on MYIML a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £20 000. The penalty is imposed on MYIML for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 16 December 2013 and 3 February 2014.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; MYIML’s representations; steps taken by MYIML for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; the steps MYIML has told Ofcom it has put in place to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse; our policy documentation entitled Tackling abandoned and silent calls: Statement and revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010, published on 1 October 2010; and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the penalty notification will be made available shortly.

End of update note

Update note 2 : 10 December 2014

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of Green Deal Savings Limited (“GDS”), following the issuance of a notification to the company on 23 June 2014, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that GDS had, in both of the respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 27 October 2013 and 14 December 2013.

Ofcom has decided to impose on GDS a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £20,000. The penalty is imposed on GDS for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between 27 October 2013 and 14 December 2013.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; GDS’s representations; steps taken by GDS for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; the Statement and revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010, published on 1 October 2010; and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 1 October 2014

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of Ageas Retail Limited (“Ageas”) , following the issuance of a notification to the company on 9 April 2014, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that Ageas had, in one or more of the respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 21 July 2013 and 7 September 2013.

Ofcom has decided to impose on Ageas a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £10,000. The penalty is imposed on Ageas for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 21 July 2013 and 7 September 2013.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; Ageas ’s representations; steps taken by Ageas  for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; the steps Ageas  has committed to put in place to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse; our policy documentation entitled Tackling abandoned and silent calls: Statement and revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010, published on 1 October 2010;and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the penalty notification is available at the bottom of this page.

End of update note

Update note – 26 August 2014

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Green Deal Savings Limited on 23 June 2014 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 18 August 2014

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to MYIML Limited on 28 July 2014 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 29 July 2014

Ofcom has issued a notification to MYIML Limited under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the "Act") as part of Ofcom's ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 16 December 2013 and 3 February 2014 (the “relevant period”) MYIML Limited persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • making multiple abandoned calls from its call centre during forty-five separate 24 hour periods; and
  • in the event of an abandoned call, failing to include details of an appropriate number in the information message to enable the called person to return the call and decline further marketing calls from the company.

MYIML Limited has until 26 August 2014 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 17 July 2014

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Sambora Communications Incorporated on 16 June 2014 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 26 June 2014

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Ageas 50 Limited on 9 April 2014 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 24 June 2014

Ofcom has issued a notification to Green Deal Savings Limited, trading as Green Deal Savings, under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the "Act") as part of Ofcom's ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 27 October 2013 and 14 December 2013 (the “relevant period”) Green Deal Savings Limited persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • Making multiple abandoned calls from its call centre during one 24 hour period; and
  • Making multiple abandoned calls during the relevant period where it failed to ensure an information message was played.

Green Deal Savings Limited has until 21 July 2014 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 17June 2014

Ofcom has issued a notification to Sambora Communications Incorporated (“Sambora Communications”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of Ofcom’s ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 September and 19 October 2013 Sambora Communications persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • Making multiple abandoned calls from its call centre during each of six separate 24 hour periods.
  • Failing to ensure that an information message was included in the event of an abandoned call between the period 2 October 2013 and 8 October 2013.
  • In the event of an abandoned call, failing to include details of an appropriate number in the information message to enable the called person to return the call and decline further marketing calls from the company.

Sambora Communications has until 21 July 2014 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 13 June 2014

Ofcom remains committed to the prevention and reduction of annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers may suffer from abandoned and silent calls. Ofcom considers that the repeated making of abandoned and/or silent calls constitutes persistent misuse for the purposes of section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”).

In March 2011 we published a general update that stated we were reviewing complaints data to decide whether it would be appropriate to take enforcement action in respect of particular companies. Since this time we have issued penalties under section 130 of the Act to HomeServe plc ('HomeServe'), RWE npower PLC ('npower') and TalkTalk Telecom Limited ('TalkTalk'). We have also opened investigations into Redress Financial Management (trading as Redress Claims) and Ageas 50 (trading as RIAS and Castle Cover).

We are also reviewing Ofcom’s abandoned and silent calls guidelines to explore whether any changes would be appropriate. This will look at any relevant developments in call centres’ practices and technology.

Our activity in this area is ongoing. For this reason and on the basis that Ofcom is still receiving a considerable volume of complaints in respect of silent and abandoned calls, Ofcom has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement, which includes both formal and informal action, for a further twelve months.

End of update note

Update note - 10 April 2014

Ofcom has issued a notification to Ageas 50 Limited, trading as RIAS and Castle Cover ("Ageas 50"), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the "Act") as part of Ofcom's ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 21 July 2013 and 7 September 2013 Ageas 50 persistently misused an electronic communication network or electronic communication service by:

  • Making multiple abandoned calls from its call centres during each of three separate 24 hour periods.
  • Including marketing content within the information message played in the event of an abandoned call during the relevant period.

Ageas 50 has until 12 May 2014 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 03 October 2013

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Redress Financial Management Limited on 22 August 2013 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 28 August 2013

Ofcom has issued a notification to Redress Financial Management Limited, trading as Redress Claims (“Redress”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of Ofcom’s ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 15 August and 15 November 2012 Redress persistently misused an electronic communications network or electronic communications services by making an excessive number of abandoned calls from its call centre during the period investigated.

The notification gives Redress until 24 September 2013 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification; to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated; and to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of update note

Update note – 24 June 2013

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the penalty notification issued to TalkTalk Telecom Limited, trading as TalkTalk, on 19 April 2013, under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 14 June 2013

Ofcom remains committed to the prevention and reduction of annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers may suffer from abandoned and silent calls. Ofcom considers that the repeated making of abandoned and/or silent calls constitutes persistent misuse for the purposes of section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”).

In March 2011 we published a general update that stated we were reviewing complaints data to decide whether it would be appropriate to take enforcement action in respect of particular companies. Since this time we have issued penalties under section 130 of the Act to HomeServe plc ('HomeServe'), RWE npower PLC ('npower') and TalkTalk Telecom Limited ('TalkTalk').

Since the conclusion of these investigations we have, amongst other things, identified that a large proportion of nuisance calls are being generated by the PPI / claims management sector and we are considering enforcement action in relation to suspected silent and abandoned calls by businesses in this sector. We will also be considering the options for taking enforcement action against businesses that fail to provide consumers with the information they need to contact the caller after receiving a silent or abandoned call.

Our activity in this area is ongoing. For this reason and on the basis that Ofcom is still receiving a considerable volume of complaints in respect of silent and abandoned calls, Ofcom has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement, which includes both formal and informal action, for a further twelve months.

End of update note

Update note – 17 May 2013

Ofcom has today published the findings of its latest research into the number, type and frequency of nuisance calls that UK consumers receive on their home landline phone (see related items).

Our research found that, for those calls where respondents were able to record the product or service, calls about Payment Protection Insurance (PPI), claim refunds and accident claims together accounted for 45% of abandoned calls and 26% of all nuisance calls. This suggests that the PPI/claims management sector may be responsible for generating a significant proportion of nuisance calls.

In light of these findings, we are considering enforcement action in relation to suspected silent and abandoned calls by companies in the PPI/claims management sector.

The research also found that for 75% of silent calls and 61% of abandoned calls, the telephone number of the caller was not provided. This meant that in the majority of cases it was not possible to easily identify who had made the call. In addition, Ofcom has also found that where numbers were provided by companies generating silent calls, it was not always possible to identify the caller by calling those numbers. We will therefore also be considering the options for taking enforcement action against companies and/or other organisations that fail to provide consumers with the information they need to contact the caller after receiving a silent or abandoned call.

End of update note

Update note - 18 April 2013

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into TalkTalk. A press release is available here. A non-confidential version of the decision is currently being prepared and will be published in due course.

End of update note

Update note - 17 January 2013

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the penalty notification issued to RWE npower PLC, trading as npower, on 5 December 2012, under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

The non-confidential section 130 notification corrects a number of typographical errors and makes minor clarifications to the confidential version sent to npower on 5 December 2012.[1]

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

[1] In paragraph 2.240 the word ‘abandoned’ was inserted between the words ‘received’ and ‘called’ in the second sentence. In paragraph 3.45 the text ‘an abandoned call’ was replaced by ‘1,906 abandoned calls’.

End of update note

Update note - 6 December 2012

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of npower, following the issuance of a notification to the company on 6 July 2011, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that npower had, in one or more of the respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 1 February and 21 March 2011.

Ofcom has decided to impose on npower a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £60,000. The penalty is imposed on npower for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 1 February to 21 March 2011.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; npower’s representations; steps taken by npower for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; the steps npower has committed to put in place to remedy the consequences of the notified misuse; our policy documentation entitled Tackling abandoned and silent calls: Statement and revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010, published on 1 October 2010;and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the penalty notification is currently being prepared and will be published in due course.

End of update note

Update note - 15 June 2012

Ofcom remains committed to the prevention and reduction of annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers may suffer from abandoned and silent calls. Ofcom considers that the repeated making of abandoned and/or silent calls constitutes persistent misuse for the purposes of section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

Ofcom published its statement of policy, entitled the " Revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010", and annexed to the document entitled " Tackling abandoned and silent calls: Statement." This, amongst other things, sets out Ofcom's current approach to assessing whether to take enforcement action for persistent misuse in relation to silent and/or abandoned calls.

It further sets out the requirements for the compliant use of automatic calling systems ('ACS') and answer machine detection ('AMD') technology and the steps we expect companies to take to avoid making abandoned and/or silent calls and, if such calls are made, to limit consumer harm.

In March 2011 we published a general update that stated we were reviewing complaints data to decide whether it would be appropriate to take enforcement action in respect of particular companies. Since this time we have issued three notifications under section 128 of the Act to HomeServe plc ('HomeServe'), RWE npower PLC ('npower') and TalkTalk Telecom Limited ('TalkTalk'). These notifications established that Ofcom had reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011, the notified parties had persistently misused an electronic communications network or electronic communications service. Since these notifications, Ofcom has imposed on HomeServe a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The penalty of £750,000 was imposed on HomeServe for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 1 February to 21 March 2011. Our investigations involving npower and TalkTalk are continuing.

Our activity in this area is ongoing. For this reason and on the basis that Ofcom is still receiving a considerable volume of complaints in respect of this form of persistent misuse, Ofcom has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement, which includes both formal and informal action, for a further twelve months.

End of update note

Update note – 22 May 2012

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the penalty notification issued to HomeServe Plc, trading as HomeServe, on 18 April 2012, under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 19 April 2012

Ofcom has concluded its investigation into whether further enforcement action is appropriate in respect of HomeServe, following the issuance of a notification to the company on 6 July 2011, under section 128 of the Act (the “section 128 notification”).

The investigation found that HomeServe had, in one or more of the respects notified in the section 128 notification, persistently misused an electronic communications network or service between 1 February and 21 March 2011.

Ofcom has decided to impose on HomeServe a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The amount of that penalty is £750,000. The penalty is imposed on HomeServe for its persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service between the period 1 February to 21 March 2011.

In reaching its decision, Ofcom took account of: the available evidence; HomeServe’s representations; steps taken by HomeServe for securing that its misuse was brought to an end and not repeated; steps taken by HomeServe for remedying the consequences of the notified misuse; the principles set out in Ofcom’s revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010, published on 1 October 2010 and annexed to the document entitled Tackling abandoned and silent calls: Statement;and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines.

A non-confidential version of the penalty notification is currently being prepared and will be published in due course.

End of update note

Update note - 6 February 2012

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to RWE npower PLC, trading as npower, on 6 July 2011 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note - 12 December 2011

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to TalkTalk Telecom Limited, trading as TalkTalk, on 12 October 2011 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 13 October 2011

Ofcom has issued a notification to TalkTalk Telecom Limited, trading as TalkTalk (“TalkTalk”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of Ofcom’s ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011, TalkTalk persistently misused an electronic communications network or electronic communications services, through two call centres, one based in the UK and one in South Africa, on the following basis by:

  • making an excessive number of abandoned calls during the period investigated;
  • making one or more repeat calls to a specific numbers within 24 hours, when a call had been identified by Answer Machine Detection equipment as having been picked up by an answer machine;
  • failing to provide a robust reasoned estimate of AMD false positives when AMD equipment was in use;
  • failing to keep adequate records that demonstrate compliance with Ofcom’s policy and procedures;
  • failing to ensure that an information message was included in the event of an abandoned call; and
  • failing to ensure that when an abandoned call (other than an AMD false positive), has been made to a particular number, any repeat calls to that number in the following 72 hours were only made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator.

The notification gives TalkTalk until 14 November 2011 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters set out in the notification, and to take steps for securing that the misuse is brought to an end and not repeated and remedying the consequences of the notified misuse.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

Update note – 31 August 2011

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to HomeServe on 6 July 2011 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.
This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note (i) – 7 July 2011

Ofcom has issued a notification to HomeServe PLC, trading as HomeServe (“HomeServe”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of this ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011, HomeServe persistently misused an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of an automated calling system. Specifically, the notification focuses on evidence that HomeServe:

  • made an excessive number of abandoned calls during the period investigated; and
  • made one or more repeat calls to a specific numbers within 24 hours, when a call had been identified by Answer Machine Detection equipment as being picked up by an answer machine.

The notification gives HomeServe until 10 August 2011 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification, and to take steps to cease the misuse identified.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of Update note

Update note (ii) – 7 July 2011

Ofcom has issued a notification to RWE npower PLC, trading as npower (“npower”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of this ongoing own-initiative investigation.

The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011, npower persistently misused an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of an automated calling system.

Specifically, the notification focuses on evidence that npower:

  • made an excessive number of abandoned calls during the period investigated; and
  • included marketing content within a recorded information message played in the event of an abandoned call.

The notification gives npower until 10 August 2011 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification, and to take steps to cease the misuse identified.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

A non-confidential version of the notification will be published on our website in due course.

End of Update note

Update note – 17 June 2011

Ofcom remains committed to dealing with the unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers can suffer by silent and abandoned calls.

Ofcom published the 'Revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010' on 1 October 2010. The revised statement set out Ofcom's approach to assessing whether to take enforcement action where there is evidence that companies have persistently misused automatic calling systems by making abandoned and silent calls. The statement clarified what companies should do to comply with the relevant statutory provisions and introduced the '24 hour policy' which was designed to tackle repeat silent calls.

The 24 hour policy states that when a call has been identified by Answer Machine Detection (AMD) equipment as being picked up by an answer machine, any repeat calls to that specific number that day may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator. This is aimed to prevent consumers receiving more than one silent call per day from the same business or person. AMD users were required to comply with this policy by 1 February 2011.

In March we published a general update that stated we were reviewing complaints data to decide whether it would be appropriate to take enforcement action. This process is ongoing, and for this reason, Ofcom has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement, which includes both formal and informal action, for a further twelve months.

End of update note

Update note – 24 March 2011

This is a general update on Ofcom's monitoring and enforcement of rules preventing annoyance caused to consumers by silent and abandoned calls following the introduction of the new 24 hour policy.

Ofcom published the 'Revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service 2010' on 1 October 2010. The revised statement sets out Ofcom's approach when assessing whether to take enforcement action against Automatic Calling System (ACS) users' for persistent misuse caused by abandoned and silent calls. It clarifies existing policy requirements and introduces measures designed to tackle repeat silent calls (the '24 hour policy').

The 24 hour policy states that when a call has been identified by Answer Machine Detection (AMD) equipment as being picked up by an answer machine, any repeat calls to that specific number that day may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator. This is aimed to prevent consumers receiving more than one silent call per day from the same business or person. AMD users were required to comply with this policy by 1 February 2011.

We wrote to industry stakeholders on 20 December 2010 noting the revised statement of policy and that the maximum penalty for persistent misuse is now £2 million.
Following the requirement for ACS users to adhere to the 24 hour policy from 1 February 2011, we are now reviewing complaints data to decide whether enforcement activity is appropriate.

End of update note

Update note – 17 June 2010

Ofcom remains committed to dealing with the unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers can suffer by silent and abandoned calls, especially repeat silent calls. As such, at the beginning of this month Ofcom issued a consultation to tackle repeat silent calls and to clarify some areas of its 2008 Revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service. In addition, following its consultation at the end of last year, the government is due to debate the decision to increase the maximum statutory penalty for persistent misuse to £2million.

With the possibility of updated guidelines for industry and a higher maximum penalty to deter mis-users, Ofcom believes it will be better equipped to address this problem.

Therefore, it has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement, which includes both formal and informal action, for a further twelve months.

End of update note

Update note – 21 December 2009

Ofcom remains committed to dealing with the unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which consumers can suffer by silent and abandoned calls. We have therefore decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

The Government consultation mentioned in the update note of 19 June below on the level of the maximum statutory penalty for persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service is now underway, with the consultation due to close on 26 January 2010.

End of update note

Update note – 30 October 2009

Ofcom is amending paragraph 4.16.2 of the Revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service published in September 2008 (the 'Statement’) (see related item) to allow for different call centres who use different types of technology to choose from two options with regards to when an information message needs to be played in the event of an abandoned call.

With immediate effect, a recorded message must be played either no later than two seconds after the telephone has been picked up; or no later than two seconds after an individual begins to speak. The Amendment to the Statement sets out the amended wording (see http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/persistent_misuse/).

For the avoidance of doubt, the Statement otherwise remains unchanged. We are maintaining our monitoring and enforcement programme and will continue to undertake both informal and formal investigations which may ultimately lead Ofcom to issue a notification under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 where it identifies persistent misuse of a network or service.

End of update note

Update note – 19 June 2009

As Ofcom continues to take very seriously the potential unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience, or anxiety which may be caused to consumers by silent and abandoned calls, it has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

Separately the Government announced in the Digital Britain report, published on 16 June 2009, that it is going to consult on the level of the maximum statutory penalty for persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service.

It is hoped that a higher penalty would increase deterrence for those companies who persistently misuse a network or service and cause harm to consumers by making excessive silent and abandoned calls. Such a raise would also serve to address the growing disparity between the various penalties that Ofcom can impose under the Communications Act 2003 in relation to actions causing consumer harm, and those it can impose under the Broadcasting Code.

The relevant chapter of the Digital Britain report can be found at the following link:
http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/chpt7_digitalbritain-finalreport-jun09.pdf

End of update note

Update note – 2 March 2009

Ofcom has today published the non-confidential version of the enforcement notification and penalty notice issued to UCS on 28 January 2009 under sections 129 and 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 30 January 2009

Ofcom has issued an enforcement notification to Ultimate Credit Services Ltd (“UCS”) under section 129 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”). The enforcement notification follows evidence that UCS did not take appropriate steps to cease the misuse identified in the notification issued to UCS under section 128 of the Act on 6 August 2008 (the ‘section 128 notification’ – see link below).

UCS has until 27 February 2009 to take all such steps as Ofcom considers appropriate for securing that any misuse is brought to an end and not repeated and remedying the consequences of the notified misuse. After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate.

In addition Ofcom has imposed a financial penalty on UCS in relation to the misuse identified in the section 128 notification. The penalty has been imposed under section 130 of the Act and is £45,000.

A non-confidential version of the document containing the enforcement notification and the penalty notice is being prepared and will be published shortly.

End of update note

Update note – 7 January 2009

Ofcom has today published the non-confidential version of the penalty notice issued to Equidebt on 16 December 2008 under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 17 December 2008

Ofcom has imposed a financial penalty on Equidebt Ltd (“Equidebt”) for persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of automated calling systems. The penalty has been imposed under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 and is £36,000. This action follows the notification which was issued to Equidebt on 15 October 2008 (see link below).

A non-confidential version of the section 130 notice is being prepared and will be published shortly.

Separately, as Ofcom continues to take very seriously the harm which may be caused to consumers by silent and abandoned calls, it has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

End of update note

Update note - 4 November 2008

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Equidebt on 15 October 2008 under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 31 October 2008

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the penalty notice issued to Barclaycard on 24 September 2008 under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003.

This document can be found at the relevant link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 16 October 2008

Ofcom has issued a notification to Equidebt Ltd (“Equidebt”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of this ongoing own-initiative investigation. The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 October 2006 and 31 March 2007, Equidebt persistently misused an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of an automated calling system.

The notification gives Equidebt until 17 November 2008 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification, and to take steps to cease the misuse identified.

After this date Ofcom will consider whether further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

A non-confidential version of the notification is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

End of update note

Update note – 26 September 2008

Ofcom has imposed the maximum statutory financial penalty on Barclays Bank plc trading as Barclaycard (“Barclaycard”) for persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of automated calling systems. The penalty has been imposed under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) and is £50,000. This action follows the notification which was issued to Barclaycard on 20 June 2008 (see link below).

A non-confidential version of the section 130 notice is being prepared and will be published shortly.

End of update note

Update note – 6 August 2008

Ofcom has issued a notification to Ultimate Credit Services Ltd (“UCS”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of this ongoing own-initiative investigation. The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 October 2006 and 30 April 2007, UCS persistently misused an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of an automated calling system.

The notification gives UCS until 12 September 2008 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification, and to take steps to cease the misuse identified.

After this date Ofcom will consider what further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

A non-confidential version of the notification is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

End of update note

Update note – 10 July 2008

Ofcom has today published a non-confidential version of the notification issued to Barclaycard on 20 June 2008, under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003.

The document can be found at the link at the bottom of this entry.

End of update note

Update note – 23 June 2008

Ofcom has issued a notification to Barclays Bank plc, trading as Barclaycard (“Barclaycard”), under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of this ongoing own-initiative investigation. The notification sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that between 1 October 2006 and 10 May 2007, Barclaycard persistently misused an electronic communications network or services by virtue of its use of automated calling systems.

The notification gives Barclaycard until 21 July 2008 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification, and to take steps to cease the misuse identified.

After this date Ofcom will consider what further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

A non-confidential version of the notification is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

In addition, Ofcom has extended this programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

End of update note

Update note – 14 April 2008

Ofcom has today published non-confidential versions of the Penalty Notices issued to Complete Credit Management Limited and Abbey National plc on 19 March 2008, under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”).

These documents can be found at the links at the bottom of this entry.

Update note – 20 March 2008

Ofcom has imposed financial penalties on Abbey National plc (“Abbey”) and Complete Credit Management Limited (“CCM”) under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”). This action follows notifications issued to both companies on 29 November 2007 for contravening section 128 of the Act by making an excessive number of abandoned calls (see related items).

The maximum financial penalty Ofcom can impose under section 130 of the Act is £50,000. The levels of the penalties which have been imposed in these cases are as follows:

  • Abbey - £30,000
  • CCM - £5,000

In the notifications of 29 November 2007 Ofcom set out its findings that there were reasonable grounds to believe that between October 2006 and April 2007, both Abbey and CCM had repeatedly exceeded the abandoned call rate set out in Ofcom’s statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, published on 1 March 2006 (the “Guidelines”); that is no more than 3% of live calls on each individual campaign over any 24 hour period.

Abbey and CCM were given until 7 January 2008 to make representations in relation to the matters set out in the notifications. Ofcom has decided to impose a penalty on both companies having applied the relevant legal framework and having carefully considered the representations made.

Non confidential versions of the section 130 notices are being prepared and will be published shortly.

Update note – 18 December 2007

Ofcom has decided to extend this programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

During this period Ofcom will continue to monitor silent and abandoned call data and investigate whether particular users of automated calling systems are complying with the requirements of the revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, published on 1 March 2006 (the “Guidelines”).

On 17 December 2007 Ofcom published a consultation document proposing clarifications to detailed aspects of the requirements set out in the Guidelines (see related item).

Non-confidential versions of the notifications issued to Abbey National plc and Complete Credit Management Ltd under section 128 of the Act on 29 November 2007 have now been prepared, and can be found at the link below.

End of update note

Update note - 4 December 2007

Ofcom has issued notifications to two companies under section 128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”) as part of its ongoing own-initiative investigation to address the problem of silent and abandoned calls.

Notifications have been issued to:

  • Abbey National plc (“Abbey”); and
  • Complete Credit Management Limited (“CCM”).

Ofcom’s revised statement of policy (the “Guidelines”), issued on 1 March 2006, set a number of requirements for call centres and other automated calling systems users including:

  • abandoned calls must be accompanied with a recorded information message explaining why the call has occurred and preventing silence on the line; and
  • abandoned call rates must not exceed three per cent of all calls made in any 24 hour period.

Evidence gathered in Ofcom's investigation reveals that:

  • Abbey repeatedly exceeded the 3% limit for abandoned calls between at least October 2006 and April 2007; and
  • CCM repeatedly exceeded the 3% limit for abandoned calls between October 2006 and April 2007.

Ofcom has therefore concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each of these two companies has engaged in persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communication services in a way that causes annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety to consumers within the meaning of sections 128(5)(a) and 128(6)(a) of the Act.

The notifications give each company until 7 January 2008 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification, which may include any steps taken to cease the misuse identified.

After this date Ofcom will consider what further action is appropriate, including whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act. The maximum penalty that may be imposed under section 130 of the Act is £50,000 per contravention.

Non-confidential versions of the notifications are currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

End of update note

Update note – 20 June 2007

The problem of silent and abandoned calls remains a priority for Ofcom, and Ofcom has therefore decided to extend its programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

In this period Ofcom will continue to monitor abandoned call data and investigate whether particular users of automated calling systems are complying with the requirements of the revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, published on 1 March 2006.

End of update note

Update note- 23 April 2007

Ofcom has today published the non-confidential versions of the Penalty Notices issued under Section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 to the following companies:

Space Kitchens
Bracken Bay Kitchens
Carphone Warehouse
Toucan

On 29 March 2007 Bracken Bay Kitchens lodged an appeal with the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) against the Penalty Notice issued on 30 January 2007. Details of this appeal (Case Reference: 1079/3/3/07) can be found on the CAT web site: http://www.catribunal.org.uk/current/default.asp

End of update note

Update note – 30 January 2007

Ofcom has today imposed financial penalties on four companies under section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”). Penalty notices have been issued to Bracken Bay Kitchens Ltd, Space Kitchens and Bedrooms Ltd, Toucan Residential Ltd (formerly IDT Direct Ltd) and Carphone Warehouse plc, for contravening section 128 of Act by making an excessive amount of silent or abandoned calls.

Silent calls can occur when automated calling systems used by call centres generate more calls than the available call centre agents can manage. When the person called answers the telephone and there is no agent available, the automated calling system abandons the call. This can result in the person called experiencing silence on the line when they answer the telephone.

Ofcom has imposed the following penalties:

Space Kitchens £45,000
Bracken Bay Kitchens £40,000
Carphone Warehouse £35,000
Toucan £32,500

The penalty notices have been issued following the four notifications of misuse of networks and services that Ofcom issued to these companies on 3 November 2006 (the “Notifications”). In the Notifications, Ofcom set out its findings that there were reasonable grounds to believe that each of these companies has engaged in persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communication services in a way that causes annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety to consumers. This conduct contravenes section 128(5)(a) and section 128(6)(a) of the Act.

Ofcom's investigation found that some or all of these four companies had:

Repeatedly exceeded the 3% limit for abandoned calls. Between April and July 2006 all four companies' abandoned call rates regularly exceeded 3% and in some cases were higher than 20%;

  • Failed to include a recorded information message to prevent abandoned calls from being silent calls, during some or all of the period under investigation;
  • Engaged in other forms of conduct which Ofcom considers contribute to the persistent misuse as set out in Ofcom Guidelines and specified in the notification issued to each company.

The companies were given until 6 December 2006 to make representations in relation to the matters set out in the Notifications. Ofcom has now considered representations by each of the companies and has decided to issue a financial penalty in each case.

The maximum financial penalty Ofcom can impose under section 130 of the Act is £50,000 per notification. In each of these four cases, Ofcom has imposed a penalty taking into account Ofcom's statement of general policy for determining penalties* and specifically considering:

  • the steps taken by that company to bring the misuse to an end and ensure compliance;
  • the representations made by that company; and
  • the nature of the persistent misuse and the degree of unnecessary inconvenience, annoyance and anxiety that company's conduct caused consumers to suffer as a result of abandoned calls made by automated calling systems.

Further details of Ofcom's consideration of the representations and factors to determine the penalties are included in the section 130 notices issued to each company, non confidential versions of which are being prepared and will be published on the Ofcom web site shortly.
*For Ofcom penalty guidelines see: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/

End of update note

Update note – 12 December 2006

Addressing the problem of silent calls continues to be a priority for Ofcom, therefore Ofcom will extend the current programme of monitoring and enforcement for a further six months.

During this period Ofcom will continue to gather evidence of automated calling systems (ACS) use from stakeholders. Once Ofcom has assessed the information supplied, if appropriate, Ofcom will then take any enforcement action necessary against any company found to be contravening the revised statement of policy (the “Guidelines”) and making excessive numbers of silent and abandoned calls.

Non-confidential versions of the notifications issued to Carphone Warehouse Group plc, Bracken Bay Kitchens Ltd, Space Kitchens Ltd and IDT Direct Ltd (trading as Toucan) under section 128 of the Act on 3 November 2006 have now been prepared and can be found at the link below.

End of update note

Update note - 3 November 2006

Ofcom has issued notifications to four companies as part of its ongoing own-initiative investigation to address the problem of silent calls.

Silent calls can occur when automated calling systems used by call centres generate more calls than the available call centre agents can manage. When the person called answers the telephone and there is no agent available, the automated calling system abandons the call.

This can result in the person called experiencing silence on the line when they answer the telephone.

From 1 March 2006, Ofcom issued a revised statement of policy (the “Guidelines”) stating that any abandoned calls should be accompanied by a recorded information message explaining why the call has occurred and preventing silence on the line. The Guidelines also provide that abandoned call rates should not exceed three per cent of all calls made in any 24 hour period for each campaign.

Notifications have been issued under section 128 of the Act to:

  • Carphone Warehouse plc;
  • Brakenbay Kitchens Ltd;
  • Space Kitchens Ltd; and
  • IDT Direct Ltd (trading as Toucan).

Applying the principles set out in the Guidelines, evidence gathered in Ofcom's investigation reveals that each of these four companies have:

  • Repeatedly exceeded the 3% limit for abandoned calls. Between April and July 2006 all four companies' abandoned call rates regularly exceeded 3% and in some cases were higher than 20%.
  • Failed to include a recorded information message to prevent abandoned calls from being silent calls, during some or all of the period under investigation.
  • Engaged in other forms of conduct Ofcom considers to be persistent misuse as set out in the Guidelines and specified in the notification issued to each company.

Ofcom has therefore concluded therefore that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each of these four companies have engaged in persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communication services in a way that causes annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety to consumers. This conduct contravenes section 128(5)(a) and section 128(6)(a) of the Communications Act 2003 ('the Act').

The notifications give each of the four companies until 6 December 2006 to make representations to Ofcom regarding the matters raised in the notification. After this date Ofcom will consider what further action is appropriate.

At this point Ofcom will decide in the case of each company whether to impose a financial penalty under section 130 of the Act.

The maximum penalty that may be imposed under section 130 of the Act is £50,000 per contravention.

Non-confidential versions of the notifications are currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

Representations concerning these notifications

The companies each have until 6 December 2006 to make representations to Ofcom about the matters set out in the notification issued to it.

End of update note

Update note - 5 October 2006

Ofcom has now completed an initial information gathering process and has gathered evidence from a number of different organisations who manufacture and use automated calling systems (ACS).

Ofcom is currently analysing this evidence in order to assess whether it is appropriate to issue notifications to certain organisations under Section 128 of the Act. Where Ofcom has reasonable grounds to believe that an organisation has engaged in persistent misuse, then it will proceed to issue a notification and announce that it has done so on the Competition Bulletin. A further update will be published shortly.

End of update note

Ofcom has opened an own-initiative programme of enforcement to investigate compliance of organisations using automated calling systems with the principles set out in Ofcom's revised policy, introduced earlier this year, to address the problem of silent calls.

Since the introduction of these new rules, Ofcom has been closely monitoring levels of complaints to Ofcom's Contact Centre regarding silent calls. This monitoring has indicated that there may be some organisations failing to fully comply with these new rules.

As the first stage of this programme of active enforcement, Ofcom will gather evidence from a range of stakeholders in order to formally assess the level of compliance with the new rules. This will include information gathered using Ofcom's powers under the Communications Act from communications providers' nuisance calls bureaux, as well as evidence gathered directly from organisations who use or provide automated calling systems.

Assessing this range of data will enable Ofcom to identify those organisations causing most concern in terms of silent and abandoned calls and, accordingly, where to focus the next phase of this programme of enforcement. This second stage will involve detailed investigation of specific organisations alleged in complaints, or suggested by evidence gathered, to be generating silent and abandoned calls in a manner which constitutes persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, contrary to Ofcom's revised policy.

Where Ofcom investigates a specific organisation under this programme of enforcement, details will be announced via this Competition Bulletin. Ofcom will respond swiftly and effectively to resolve any persistent misuse under Section 128 of the Communications Act.

Background

Silent calls occur when automated calling systems used by call centres for telemarketing, market research, debt collection and other purposes, generate more calls than the available call centre agents can manage. When the person dialled answers the telephone, there is no agent available, resulting in silence on the line, because the automated calling system has ended the call.

Sections 128 to 130 of the Communications Act 2003 (“the Act”) gives Ofcom the power to take action against persons or companies who persistently misuse an electronic communications network(s) or service(s) in any way that causes or is likely to cause unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.

On 1 March 2006 Ofcom published a revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, with new measures designed to take action against silent calls (see Related Items).

Ofcom's statement set out a number of requirements for organisations using automated calling systems, including the need to carry a recorded information message which identifies the source of the call and to include Calling Line Identification which allows people to dial 1471 and access the telephone number of the person or organisation calling them.

The Government has increased the maximum penalty that Ofcom can impose on organisations that breach Sections 128 to 130 of the Act from £5,000 to £50,000.

If you are a consumer and wish to discuss this case please contact Ofcom’s Advisory Team on 020 7981 3040 or 0300 123 3333.

Case Leader: Nitika Grover( e-mail: nitika.grover@ofcom.org.uk)
Case Reference: CW/00905/06/06

[1] In paragraph 2.240 the word ‘ abandoned’ was inserted between the words ‘ received’ and ‘ called’ in the second sentence. In paragraph 3.45 the text ‘an abandoned call‘ was replaced by ‘1,906 abandoned calls’