The new fine is 40 times larger than the previous maximum limit of £50,000. The intention of the penalty is to send a clear message that businesses must abide by the rules or face serious consequences.
Silent calls are generated when call centres use predictive dialling systems to call more numbers than there is staff available to speak to the person who answers.
Ofcom will now have the power to use the fine to penalise and deter firms from persistently making these calls.
Minister for Communications, Ed Vaizey, said:
“Silent calls are incredibly unnerving, particularly for the elderly and those who live alone. Government will not stand by and let firms plague consumers without consequence which is why we have made the maximum penalty for silent calls 40 times larger to reflect the seriousness of the issue.
“Ofcom can now put this fine into action in the most serious of cases and they will also work with us to ensure consumers know where to get help if they are a victim of persistent silent and abandoned calls.”
The penalty has been applied through an amendment to the Communication Act 2003 and will also be applicable to cases including for example:
- number scanning
- withholding calling line identification facilities
- abusing systems for dishonest gain
- misusing allocated telephone numbers
Notes to editors:
The amendment to introduce the new penalty was passed in the Houses of Parliament on Thursday, 16 September 2010.
Ofcom research into the issue, carried out between October and December 2009, found that 47% of adults felt ‘very inconvenienced’ by silent calls and 32% were ‘very concerned’. During the same period, 3,500 consumers contacted BT’s Nuisance Calls Bureau and in February 2010, over 14,000 callers to the Bureau listened to recorded advice on silent calls. Ofcom received over 6,500 complaints about silent calls in 2009.
The current framework for regulating silent and abandoned calls is set out in the Communications Act 2003. The Act provides powers to Ofcom to take action against those who persistently misuse networks or services in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety, but which falls short of a criminal offence.
On 10 September 2008, Ofcom published a revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service, which tightened up the rules concerning the usage of ACS. The previous penalty of £5,000 was increased to £50,000 in April 2006. Ofcom has since then successfully pursued 9 cases against companies which were found to have generated unacceptably high levels of silent and or abandoned calls. It has issued financial penalties in each case and also has an ongoing enforcement programme.
Ofcom’s guidelines on persistent misuse of ACS can be found at: www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/persistent_misuse/statement/.
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Notes to Editors
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