Ofcom has fined Barclaycard £50,000 - the maximum amount possible - for breaching its rules on silent and abandoned calls, and said it would have liked to have fined it more for its "serious and persistant" breach.
Ofcom said silent calls are a significant cause of inconvenience and anxiety for thousands of people every month. Most silent calls are not generated with malicious intent, but occur when call centres using automated calling systems generate more calls than their available agents can deal with.
When the person called answers the telephone, there is no agent available, resulting in silence on the line.
Ofcom published its rules on silent calls in 2006, including three key requirements:
1. Abandoned call rates must be no more than 3% of all live calls made in any 24 hour period for each campaign.
2. All abandoned calls must carry a short recorded information message identifying the source of the call.
3. Calling line identification (CLI) must be included on all outbound calls generated by automated calling systems. CLI allows people to dial 1471 and access the telephone number of the person or organisation calling them.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said of the Barclaycard breach, "Taken as a whole, this is the most serious case of persistent misuse by making silent and abandoned calls that Ofcom has ever investigated. Had we not been limited by the statutory maximum, we would have imposed a larger financial penalty to reflect this misuse."
Ofcom investigated Barclaycard from 1 October 2006 to 10 May 2007, and found that it had "made an extremely high number of silent calls where the people receiving the calls had no method of knowing who had made them".
The investigation also found that some of Barclaycard's call centres had no procedures in place to prevent people receiving repeated abandoned calls over a short period of time.
Ofcom has previously fined Abbey National, Complete Credit Management, Space Kitchens, Bracken Bay Kitchens, Carphone Warehouse and Toucan for breaches of its rules on silent and abandoned calls.