Ofcom gets tough on silent calls

Enforcement action against leading banks and debt collection agencies has cut the number of silent calls to consumers

Enforcement action against leading banks and debt collection agencies has cut the number of silent calls to consumers, an Ofcom report on communications consumption patterns revealed today.

Silent calls happen when a call centre computer dials a consumer but drops the call because no-one is available to speak to the consumer.

Ofcom, the UK's communications industry regulator, recently issued enforcement notices to Abbey National, Barclaycard, Complete Credit Management, Equidebt and Ultimate Credit Services for silent calls. This was in response to consumer complaints about silent calls which trebled in the year to September from around 300 per month to around 1050 per month.

Ofcom action has also helped consumers speed up switching from one broadband supplier to another, it said. There were fewer complaints from consumers unable to switch broadband providers because of difficulties in obtaining a media access control (MAC) address or because of a tag on their line.

Ofcom plans to consult early next year to tighten existing rules on mis-selling by communications suppliers. This follows a rise in complaints from around 800 per month to around 1050 per month in a year.

Ofcom received most complaints about silent calls and complaints about fixed line mis-selling, the Ofcom report said. Complaints about mobile phone cashback deals dropped from almost 600 per month to less than 70 per month in the nine months to June 2008.

Ofcom's study showed nearly one in three consumers uses a "bundle" or triple-play offer of television, telephone and mobile or broadband service. This is up from less than one in five a year ago in a shift driven by lower prices, it said.

Ofcom awarded its first price accreditation logos to price comparison websites Broadband Choices and SimplifyDigital.

Ofcom said it will publish its strategy for addressing consumer access and inclusion issues early next year. This will set out the current evidence on availability, take-up and effective use of key services and the main barriers to further improvements, it said. A key issue is access to broadband, which some believe should be a universal service obligation similar to a telephone connection.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: "Satisfaction levels (with the communications industry) remain high but action against the scourges of slamming (secret change of supplier) and silent calls remain priorities for Ofcom."

Ofcom also released new guidance on what to do if consumers are unhappy with services from their communications providers.

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