In December 2015, Ofcom published a consultation paper reviewing its approach to silent and abandoned calls. Silent and abandoned calls are calls in which a connection is made with an individual call recipient and which are then terminated by the caller, causing the recipient to either hear silence or a recorded message. Ofcom’s consultation revealed that such calls continue to be prevalent. As a result, the consultation concerned the validity of a zero-tolerance policy for silent and abandoned calls. In addition, the consultation discussed a revised approach to Ofcom’s enforcement powers.
The significance of silent and abandoned calls is that they can cause annoyance and stress to consumers, ultimately leading to an increase in consumer harm. In fact, Ofcom estimates that, despite existing policies, consumers receive 200 million abandoned calls and 1.5 billion silent calls per year. As such, Ofcom’s ongoing aim is to scrutinise organisations and their policies in order to minimise consumer harm.
Ofcom’s current policy
Ofcom’s current policy establishes ways in which organisations can avoid making abandoned or silent calls and thus can limit consumer harm. Some key points found within the current policy require organisations to:
- let the phone ring for at least 15 seconds before terminating a call;
- where a call is abandoned, leave a recorded message no later than 2 seconds after the call identifying the company and providing a number to return the call on; and
- require that the number of silent or abandoned calls is no more than 3% of calls per campaign (across all call centres) or per contact centre within any 24 hour period.
Ofcom’s revised policy
The revised policy is based on the notion that consumers must not be subject to silent or abandoned calls under any circumstances. In addition, the revised policy will allow Ofcom to have greater enforcement power in the event that organisations do expose consumers to silent or abandoned calls.
The likely implications of Ofcom’s revised policy are not only a more robust enforcement action, but also a higher number of actions and higher penalties. The policy could have a substantial impact on organisations that continue to make silent and abandoned calls. Ofcom has stated that, in assessing cases and deciding whether to pursue an action against the organisation, it will take into account five main factors:
- whether the misuse is repeated and over what period of time;
- the time of day any misuse occurs;
- the time taken to connect recorded messages to the consumer;
- whether the calling line identification presented to consumers enables them to return calls and whether they are able to identify the caller and opt out of future calls; and
- the management and practices the organisation has in place.
So what’s next?
Ofcom intends to publish its revised policy in Q1 2016-17. This is expected to come into force after a two month implementation period beginning on the date of publication.