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UK to Tackle Nuisance Calls as Related TalkTalk Investigation Continues

Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013 (12:36 pm) - Score 1,324

The UK telecoms regulator has unveiled a five-point action plan to tackle the “growing problem” of nuisance calls (e.g. silent and abandoned calls from automated dialling systems) that can cause “considerable concern and annoyance for consumers“, although its long running investigation into ISP TalkTalk’s related activity has yet to reach a conclusion.

Sadly Ofcom’s new Consumer Experience report found a year on year growth in the number of consumers experiencing silent calls. The research claims that, during a six-month period in 2012, almost half (47%) of all adults with a landline experienced a silent call (up from 24% in 2011) and 71% said they received a live marketing call, while 63% received a recorded marketing message.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcoms Consumer Group Director, 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.”

Ofcom has already issued fines totalling over £800,000 within the last year to HomeServe and nPower for related abuses, although its investigation into similar activity by TalkTalk has yet to reach a conclusion.

Back in October 2011 the regulator ruled that it had “reasonable grounds for believing” that the ISP had “persistently misused an electronic communications network or electronic communications services, through two call centres, one based in the UK and one in South Africa“.

Ofcom Accused TalkTalk of..

* making an excessive number of abandoned calls during the period investigated;
* making one or more repeat calls to a specific numbers within 24 hours, when a call had been identified by Answer Machine Detection equipment as having been picked up by an answer machine;
* failing to provide a robust reasoned estimate of AMD false positives when AMD equipment was in use;
* failing to keep adequate records that demonstrate compliance with Ofcom’s policy and procedures;
* failing to ensure that an information message was included in the event of an abandoned call; and
* failing to ensure that when an abandoned call (other than an AMD false positive), has been made to a particular number, any repeat calls to that number in the following 72 hours were only made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator.

A formal notification was then issued to TalkTalk, giving the ISP until 14th November 2011 to make representations. TalkTalk confirmed the activity and promptly scrapped its relationship with the two “sales agencies“. A spokesperson for the ISP said that “Talktalk no longer works with these sales agencies and, if Ofcom imposes a financial penalty, we will recover this sum from the third party responsible.” Nothing further was heard from Ofcom until June 2012 when the regulator confirmed that it was continuing to investigate the matter.

Last year the regulator claimed that it was “still receiving a considerable volume of complaints in respect of this form of persistent misuse” and had thus decided to extend its programme of monitoring and enforcement for another 12 months (until mid-2013). Unfortunately Ofcom told ISPreview.co.uk this morning that it was unable to provide any further information about their on-going investigation.

Thankfully that hasn’t stopped Ofcom from today setting out a new plan that will bring together the telecoms industry, regulators and Government to help tackle nuisance calls.

Ofcoms Five-Point Plan (Nuisance Calls)

1. New Research

Ofcom is aware that many consumers find it difficult to distinguish between the different types of nuisance calls. We have therefore commissioned new research, which aims to create a clearer picture of the problems consumers experience. 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.

It’s good to see that Ofcom will be putting more effort into tackling this most annoying of all problems, although many of the calls come from outside of the UK and we suspect that these may prove to be more challenging. In the meantime the regulators nuisance-calls guide can be found here.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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