New Consumer Advice on Mis-Selling and Silent Calls

Ofcom has published new advice for consumers who are victims of silent calls and slamming. Ofcom is also releasing new guidance on what to do if consumers have complaints about services from their communications providers.

This action coincides with today’s publication of Ofcom’s report, The Consumer Experience 2008, which reveals that real progress has been made in the reduction of complaints from consumers unable to switch broadband providers because of difficulties in obtaining a MAC or because of a tag on their line. Complaints about mobile phone cashback deals – which were a real source of consumer harm – have also been on a downward trend from a peak of almost 600 per month in September 2007 to fewer than 70 per month in June 2008. However, more consumers are contacting Ofcom about fixed line mis-selling and silent calls than any other telecoms issue.

The report also sets the stage for Ofcom’s future work on access and inclusion for consumers who are at risk of social exclusion.

Silent calls

The majority of silent calls are caused by automated calling systems known as diallers. Diallers are mainly used in call centres to generate and attempt to connect calls. If there are not enough call centre agents available to handle all of the calls which are connected to a live individual, the recipient may receive an abandoned call. If the call centre does not play an information message in the event of an abandoned call, a silent call may result.

Ofcom has opened a programme of monitoring and enforcing compliance with guidelines which relate in part to reducing the harm which can be caused by silent and abandoned calls. As part of this programme, Ofcom has recently taken enforcement action against Abbey National plc, Barclaycard, Complete Credit Management Ltd, Equidebt Ltd and Ultimate Credit Services Ltd.

From September 2007 to September 2008 the number of consumer complaints about silent calls received by Ofcom has increased from around 300 per month to around 1050 per month.

Fixed line mis-selling

The term mis-selling is used to cover a range of sales and marketing activity including when communications providers pass themselves off as other companies and slamming, where a consumer is switched to another provider without their knowledge.

Tackling mis-selling remains a high priority for Ofcom. Through our enforcement programme we gather mis-selling data from communications providers which helps us to identify targets for enforcement action, and we continue to work closely with the industry to reduce consumer harm from mis-selling. In the early part of 2009, Ofcom also plans to consult on the existing sales and marketing rules with the aim of tightening the existing rules.

From September 2007 to September 2008 the number of consumer complaints about fixed line mis-selling received by Ofcom has increased from around 800 per month to around 1050 per month.

Consumer empowerment

As well as revealing consumer concerns about silent calls and slamming the Consumer Experience report shows that consumers are increasingly taking advantage of competition to seek the best deal.

Bundles

The research reveals a significant increase over the past 12 months in consumers switching to “triple-play” bundles. The proportion of consumers switching to one supplier for three services – digital TV, fixed-line, mobile or broadband – has increased from 18 to 32 per cent. This choice usually results in lower monthly bills.

Landlines and mobiles

There is also higher prompted awareness of suppliers in the fixed line and mobile markets with 62% of consumers aware of three or more fixed line suppliers and 89% aware of three or more mobile providers (compared to 55% and 85% in 2007).

Switching

To make switching easier for consumers, in 2008 Ofcom awarded its first price accreditation logos to price comparison websites Broadband Choices (www.broadbandchoices.co.uk) and SimplifyDigital (www.simplifydigital.co.uk). Consumers can be sure that their price comparison calculators are accessible, accurate, transparent, comprehensive and up to date.

Access and Inclusion

Some sections of society risk exclusion from the benefits of information and communications services either because a service is not available in a particular area or because there are barriers to the take-up or effective use of services.

In early 2009 Ofcom will publish its strategy for addressing access and inclusion issues. This will set out the current evidence base on availability, take-up and effective use of key services and the main barriers to further improvements.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards said “The Consumer Experience report allows us to monitor how the consumer experience of the communications market is changing over time. Satisfaction levels remain high but action against the scourges of slamming and silent calls remain priorities for Ofcom over the coming year.”

The Consumer Experience 2008 research and policy reports can be found here: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/tce/.

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