Ofcom has published a consultation on the continued prevalence of abandoned or silent calls, as these continue to be a significant problem for consumers, causing annoyance, stress and leading to consumer harm. Ofcom’s current policy broadly defines these calls as calls in which a connection is made with a live individual call recipient, and then terminated by the caller, with the recipient hearing either silence (a silent call) or a recorded message (an abandoned call). Ofcom’s priority is to target organisations causing consumer harm by such calls and ensure that their policy addresses the root causes of the problem.

On average Ofcom estimates that consumers receive 200 million abandoned calls and 1.5 billion silent calls per year, despite its current policy statement and approach to enforcement. As a result, Ofcom is consulting on the validity of adopting a zero-tolerance approach on abandoned and/or silent calls, and a revised approach to using its enforcement powers. This is likely to lead to higher penalties and more robust enforcement action.

Ofcom’s current policy for silent and abandoned calls

The current Ofcom policy sets out a number of requirements that organisations can take to avoid making abandoned or silent calls to limit harm to consumers including:

  • letting the phone ring for at least 15 seconds before terminating a call
  • where a call is abandoned, leaving a brief recorded message no later than 2 seconds after the call is abandoned identifying the company and providing a free, basic or geographic number to return the call on
  • requiring that the number of abandoned calls should be no more than three percent of live calls per campaign (i.e. across all call centres) or per contact centre over any 24 hour period.

Implications of the revised lent and abandoned calls policy

Under the revised policy, in relation to silent calls, Ofcom is proposing that the policy will clearly provide that consumers must not be subject to silent calls under any circumstances and that enforcement against such calling organisations will be Ofcom’s highest priority. In relation to abandoned calls, Ofcom considers that consumers should not be subject to abandoned calls and that:

  • it may take action in any cases where the calling organisation makes three or more abandoned calls
  • where Ofcom has to prioritise enforcement resources it is likely to take into consideration the number and/or rate at which such calls are made
  • cases where a calling organisation’s anonymous call rejection (ACR) rate is 3% or more, or also involves silent calls, will be regarded as a higher priority for enforcement action
  • where enforcement action is taken, all abandoned calls a caller makes, not just those on any days in which its ACR is 3% or more, will be taken into account
  • the revised policy may result in Ofcom taking enforcement action against a higher number of silent and abandoned calls, and could lead to higher penalties being imposed

How Ofcom will assess cases of lent and abandoned calls

The factors that Ofcom intends to take into account in assessing harm and prioritising cases include:

  • whether the misuse is repeated and over what time period
  • the time of day any misuse occurs
  • the time taken to connect recorded messages to called parties
  • whether the calling line identification (CLI) presented to call recipients enables them to make return calls, and whether they are able to identify the original caller and opt-out of future calls
  • the management and practices the calling organisations have in place.

What’s next

Ofcom intends to publish its revised policy in Q1 2016-17, which would come into force after a two-month implementation period, starting from the date of publication.