Communications regulator Ofcom has fined Glasgow-based debt management firm XS Remarketing Ltd £150,000. The firm, which trades as Debt Masters Direct, made a large number of silent and abandoned calls over 37 separate 24 hour periods between March 9 and April 28 2015. In many cases, the same number was called repeatedly during the same day when the dialling software identified that the call had been picked up by an answering machine.
Silent calls are those where the call continues without anyone from the firm being on the other end of the line. Abandoned calls are those where there is again no one from the firm available to complete the call, so the line goes dead. They can both occur when a firm uses an automated dialling system, however under Ofcom regulations firms using automated dialling are required to have a recorded message that includes a number the customer can phone to request not to receive further communications.
The largest fines imposed to date for making silent and/or abandoned calls are the £750,000 penalties handed to telecommunications provider TalkTalk and insurer Homeserve. The maximum fine Ofcom can impose is £2 million.
Ofcom has had the power for some time (via the Communications Act 2003) to impose these types of fines simply because the calls cause inconvenience to the recipients. The law was then changed earlier this year to bring the Information Commisioner’s Office (ICO) in to line with Ofcom – previously the ICO needed to prove that the calls caused distress or anxiety before taking action. The ICO handles regulation of calls where there is human interaction between the firm and the consumer, and Ofcom handles regulation of automated calls. Both organisations can now impose fines on firms who engage in questionable telemarketing practices.
Ofcom is now conducting a consultation on possible further changes to its ‘persistent misuse policy’.
The executive director of consumer organisation Which?, Richard Lloyd, said of the Debt Masters Direct case:
“Silent and abandoned calls not only waste people’s time but can be distressing, so we welcome Ofcom taking strong action. Hopefully this fine will make other companies think twice before bombarding people with nuisance calls.
“We urge consumers to report nuisance calls and texts to give regulators the vital ammunition they need to crack down on companies that don’t stick to the rules. We also want to see senior executives held personally to account if their firm makes unlawful calls.”
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