HomeServe hit by £750k call fine

HomeServe, the home insurance and repairs firm which last year suspended all its marketing, has been fined £750,000 by Ofcom after making an excessive number of silent and abandoned calls to consumers.
The fine, the first to be ordered since the maximum penalty was increased in 2010, was levied yesterday after an investigation found HomeServe to have breached the silent calls limit on 42 separate occasions between February 1 and March 21, 2011.
In the period Ofcom was concerned with, HomeServe had made 14,756 abandoned calls.
Silent calls mostly occur through the use of automated diallers at call centres, once the caller picks up a member of staff takes over, but some do not have enough staff to actually join those calls when they are made.
To prevent this, some call centres use answer machine detection technology that is supposed to automatically hang up when the call is put through to an answering service. When this technology misreads the speech of a real person picking up as the start of an answering machine message, this too can lead to quickly-abandoned calls.
Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack said: “Our rules are there to prevent consumers suffering annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety from silent or abandoned calls. We hope today’s fine will send a strong message to all companies that use call centres that they need to ensure they are fully compliant with the rules or face the consequences.”
“Ofcom rules also prohibit companies from making repeat calls to specific numbers within the same 24 hour period, where a call has been identified by [answer machine detection] technology as having been picked up by an answer machine,” the regulator said. “Ofcom found that HomeServe made an estimated 36,218 calls in breach of this rule.”
HomeServe has 30 days to pay up. The maximum fine for silent and abandoned calls was raised from £50,000 to £2m in September 2010.
Last year the company was found guilty by the Advertising Standards Authority of using scare tactics in a mailing campaign to promote its services. It also suspended all marketing after being accused of misselling.

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