Ofcom issues fines for abandoned calls

10 December 2014

Ofcom has fined two companies a total of £40,000 for making abandoned calls.

Separate investigations into Green Deal Savings Limited and MYIML Limited found both to be in breach of legislation relating to ‘persistent misuse’ of a telephone network or service.

These latest penalty decisions come as Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) outline further progress made in their joint action plan to tackle nuisance calls and texts.

Abandoned calls

An abandoned call is when a consumer picks up the receiver, but there is no one on the other end of the line.

They can occur when automated calling systems, used by organisations to maximise the time calling agents spend talking to consumers, dial too many numbers and there are not enough call centre agents to handle those calls.

Ofcom's policy on persistent misuse sets a limit on the number of abandoned calls that organisations can make.

It also states that abandoned calls must include a recorded message with information on who the call has come from and how to call back and opt out of future calls.

A silent call is where the phone rings but there is only silence when the person answers it and no information message is played.

Penalty decisions

Ofcom estimates that MYIML Limited, a lead generation company, made an estimated 30,296 abandoned calls between 16 December 2013 and 3 February 2014.

It also failed to include a suitable phone number in the recorded message played to the consumer that would allow them to return the call and decline future marketing calls.

The fine for Green Deal Savings Limited, a company offering home energy efficiency services, relates to the making of silent calls.

By failing to ensure an information message was played in the event of an abandoned call, it made an estimated 12,703 silent calls between 27 October and 14 December 2013. It also made approximately 420 abandoned calls in one 24 hour period on 27 October 2013.

Taking into account a number of factors, including the size of the businesses and level of consumer harm caused by the breaches, the companies have each received fines of £20,000. The fines are payable to Ofcom and passed to HM Treasury.

Further details about Ofcom’s investigations into MYIML Limited and Green Deal Savings Limited can be found here.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director, said: “We know that silent and abandoned calls can cause consumers annoyance, nuisance and distress. These latest fines help demonstrate to organisations that there are consequences for operating outside of the law.

“We’re committed to making full use of our powers to tackle this issue and reduce consumer harm from nuisance calls.”

Joint action plan on nuisance calls

Ofcom and the ICO launched a joint action plan to tackle nuisance calls and messages in July 2013.

Following on from an update in March 2014, today’s publication highlights further progress that has been made between March and November 2014. Key areas of progress for Ofcom during this period have included:

1) Targeted enforcement action

  • Since March 2014 Ofcom has opened four formal enforcement cases; three of these cases have concluded, resulting in fines totalling £50,000.
  • Informal enforcement has resulted in action against a further 23 organisations since March, bringing the total to 43. This action has helped to stop or significantly reduce complaints relating to 39 of the 43 organisations, with four cases on-going.
  • In October 2014, Ofcom launched a review of the policy that is used to determine whether an individual or organisation has persistently misused an electronic communications network or service. Ofcom intends to publish a consultation in the second quarter of 2015 outlining any proposals for change to this policy.

2) Improving call tracing

  • A new standard to improve call tracing is now being used routinely by Ofcom and the telecoms industry. This helps track companies that are deliberately hiding their identity by causing a false phone number to display - a practice called 'number spoofing'.

3) Working with government, other regulators, industry and consumer groups

  • Since May 2014, Ofcom and the ICO have been actively involved in the Task Force on consent and lead generation, led by consumer group Which? The Government asked the Task Force to consider further measures to help tackle unsolicited sales calls and texts including those based on data from lead generation businesses.  The taskforce submitted its recommendations to Government earlier this week.

4) Updating and improving consumer information

  • In May 2014, Ofcom published two new consumer guides to help promote wider access to advice on preventing nuisance calls and texts. The first was a short educational video, available with subtitles for people with hearing impairments. The second was a new ‘Easy Read’ consumer guide specifically designed to be easily understood by those with learning disabilities.
  • Ofcom has also recently updated information for consumers about the types and cost of services offered by phone companies to help protect against nuisance calls.

The December 2014 update also presents the joint action plan’s priority areas for 2015.

Ofcom will publish a further update on its work to tackle nuisance calls by the end of 2015.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  • Ofcom has powers to take action if an organisation or individual persistently misuses an electronic communications network or service. Ofcom’s current ‘persistent misuse’ policy identifies the making of abandoned and silent calls as a form of misuse. It sets out circumstances in which Ofcom is more likely to take action against companies who make such calls.
  • Section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 gives Ofcom the power to impose financial penalties on parties found to have persistently misused an electronic communications network or service. In September 2010, Parliament approved an increase in the maximum financial penalty available to Ofcom to use to combat persistent misuse from £50,000 to £2m. Ofcom has an ongoing monitoring and enforcement programme that seeks to address consumer harm from persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service. This has resulted in action against 15 companies to date (including Green Deal Savings Limited and MYIML Limited), resulting in financial penalties. An investigation was also opened into Sambora Communications this year and is on-going.
  • Ofcom's policy statement on persistent misuse sets out an "abandoned call rate formula" which provides that the abandoned call rate shall be no more than three per cent of live calls per campaign (i.e. across call centres) or per call centre (i.e. across campaigns) over a 24 hour period. Where users of automated calling systems fail to abide by this three per cent threshold, Ofcom is likely to consider the persistent misuse to be serious.
  • Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.
  • For further information about Ofcom please visit: www.ofcom.org.uk. Ofcom’s news releases can be found at: http://media.ofcom.org.uk/

CONTACT

Kate McGown
Ofcom Communications
0300 123 1795
kate.mcgown@ofcom.org.uk