Ofcom is embarking on a five-point plan to tackle the menace of nuisance calls, including the threat of stronger enforcement action, after revealing nearly half of all UK households received a silent call over a 6-month period in 2012.
Contrary to popular myth, not all those firms which get caught over silent calls are PPI claims firms or debt management companies; last year Ofcom handed down a fines to both HomeServe and npower.
The plan, backed by industry body the DMA, comes as Ofcom publishes its annual Consumer Experience Report, which tracks key trends in consumers’ use of communications services to inform Ofcom’s regulatory and consumer protection initiatives.
The research suggests that, during a six-month period in 2012, almost half (47%) of all adults with a landline experienced a silent call, up from a quarter (24%) in 2011.
Over the same six-month period, almost three quarters (71%) of landline customers said they received a live marketing call, while 63% received a recorded marketing message.
Ofcom’s five-point plan brings together industry, regulators and Government to help address nuisance calls:
1. New Research
A sample of UK adults will keep a diary recording any calls that they receive, holding on the line long enough to be able to determine the nature of the call, and detailing their experience. This will help to understand the frequency of the different types of nuisance calls and the companies and sectors generating them. Ofcom intends to share the findings with other bodies such as the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Office of Fair Trading, and the Ministry of Justice.
2. Tracing those behind nuisance calls
In 2013, Ofcom will work closely with industry to identify ways to trace companies behind nuisance calls where they try to hide their identity, and to look at ways to prevent such calls.
3. Improving Compliance
Ofcom, along with the Information Commissioner’s Office, will write to businesses making calls in the UK warning them of the requirement that they abide by Ofcom’s rules on silent and abandoned calls. Those that breach these rules could face fines of up to £2m.
4. Coordinated action
Ofcom has regulatory responsibility for tackling silent and abandoned calls. It has also committed to playing a role in a coordinated effort to tackle the wider issue of nuisance calls alongside other regulatory bodies, such as the Information Commissioner’s Office and Government. Ofcom has already published an online consumer guide to tackling nuisance calls and messages in collaboration with other regulators and consumer groups, which has been viewed online over 50,000 times.
5. Enforcement action
Ofcom will continue to take enforcement action where appropriate to ensure companies comply with its rules on silent and abandoned calls. Ofcom issued fines totalling over £800,000 within the last year to HomeServe and npower. TalkTalk is currently under investigation.
Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack said: “Nuisance calls can cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety to consumers. This is a complex and challenging area, but Ofcom is determined to work with industry and other regulators to help protect consumers. Our new research will help to understand the root cause of the problem.”
DMA chief of operations Mike Lordan added: “Silent and abandoned calls can be annoying and cause distress to people at home, which in turn brings the UK telemarketing industry into disrepute and undermines consumers’ confidence in the value of the channel.
“The vast majority of the telemarketing industry complies with the law and adheres to the highest standards of best practice. However, those companies that are breaking the rules are causing harm to businesses that comply with the law.
“We are particularly pleased that Ofcom’s strengthening its ongoing enforcement work to tackle silent and abandoned calls and hope that the Information Commissioner’s Office will follow with similar action to deal with unsolicited sales and marketing calls.”