Ofcom's fresh vow to halt nuisance calls

Telephone keypad Ofcom increased the maximum fine that can be levied for abandoned calls in 2011

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The communications regulator has vowed to find ways to trace mystery companies that make nuisance marketing calls.

Ofcom said the work would also include a further crackdown on silent and abandoned calls.

These are calls which are made from an automated machine, but are silent or play a recorded message if an operator is not available when it is answered.

In February 2011, the maximum fine for regularly making these silent or abandoned calls was raised to £2m.

The regulator has issued fines for those breaking the rules but has now said that this compliance should be stepped up.

Automatic calls

Call centres use automated dialling equipment to make dozens of calls at once. This has generated thousands of complaints from people who received repeated silent or abandoned calls when staff were unavailable.

What are silent or abandoned calls?

Call centres use automatic diallers to contact large numbers of people.

When the call is answered, the recipient is put through to an operator.

But the person at home can find there is nobody on the line if there are not enough staff at the call centre to actually speak to them.

Silent calls leave the line empty, but abandoned calls play a recorded message.

Although the use of automated systems are not banned, companies have been told by Ofcom to employ such practices more carefully.

The regulator is working with the Information Commissioner's Office, the Office of Fair Trading and the Ministry of Justice, on research to find out the frequency of silent, abandoned, or nuisance calls.

This will include asking a group of 800 people to keep a diary of the calls they receive and what they are about.

Ofcom also wants to find ways of preventing these unwanted marketing calls from companies that hide their identities.

"Nuisance calls can cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety to consumers," said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's consumer group director.

"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."

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