By Max Clarke

Ofcom, the independent regulator for the UK communications industry, has warned businesses to comply with new regulations to clamp down on silent calls or face enforcement action, which could include fines of up to £2million.

From tomorrow, 1 February, new rules come into force which are designed to prevent consumers being harassed by repeated silent calls from the same company.

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

Complaints about silent calls

Ofcom received over 9000 complaints in 2010 about silent calls. Where consumers have complained to Ofcom about silent calls — and told us how often they are receiving them — over 70 per cent say that they 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.

Under the old rules a total of 9 companies including Abbey National, Toucan and the Carphone Warehousewere fined, with Barclaycard recieving the then maximum £50,000 fine.

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.

Silent calls can cause significant distress to consumers which can be made worse by receiving these calls repeatedly, leading to some people believing they are being specifically targeted.

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.

Enforcement action:

Ofcom will continue to monitor complaints about silent and abandoned calls and expects to see an overall reduction in the number of complaints it receives. Ofcom will also continue with its programme of enforcement and may take action against companies found to be in breach of the rules.

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.”