Ofcom introduces new rules to tackle repeat silent calls

Ofcom has confirmed new rules to prevent consumers being harassed by repeat silent calls.

Where consumers have complained to Ofcom about silent calls – and told us how often they are receiving these calls – over 70% 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.

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, unless a call centre agent is on hand to answer the call. This would mean that consumers currently worst affected should no longer receive repeat silent calls over the course of a day. The new rules will come into force on 1 February 2011.

Ofcom received around 6,600 complaints about silent and abandoned calls in 2009 and already in 2010 Ofcom has received over 6,800 complaints. Ofcom will continue to monitor complaints about silent and abandoned calls and expects to see an overall reduction in harm as providers stop these practices.

Last week, Parliament approved an increase in the financial penalty available to Ofcom to use to combat silent and abandoned calls, from £50,000 to £2 million.

Ofcom has previously fined nine companies for making silent and abandoned calls and fined one company the then maximum £50,000. Ofcom intends to use the full extent of the new financial penalty where appropriate.

Ofcom will continue with its programme of enforcement and will take action against companies found to be in breach of the rules.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards said: “Silent and abandoned calls can cause significant consumer harm. By tackling repeat silent calls, backed by firm enforcement action and a strong financial deterrent, Ofcom expects to see an overall reduction in harm as providers stop these practices.”

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