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Sunday, 20 November 2011

Will Talk Talk be fined for Silent Calls - and what about undermining the NHS?

An article by a Mail on Sunday reporter - TalkTalk facing new Ofcom fine over silent calls – suggests that I may have been wrong to make the assumption headlined in a previous release.

It is claimed that sources now suggest that Ofcom will not follow the same approach with Talk Talk as it recently did with Homeserve and nPower.

Although Ofcom issued Notifications of Misuse to both companies, neither was subject to a penalty nor an enforceable obligation to cease the practice.

Ofcom treats many millions of Silent Calls as not being misuse at all; it applies a percentage tolerance and recently introduced a “one a day is OK” rule.

We know that Ofcom “has issues” with Talk Talk, having previously taken action against it on another matter.

I too “have issues” - it is expensive Talk Talk telephone numbers that are being used by many NHS GPs to subsidise the cost of their telephone systems at the expense of patients and in breach of their NHS contracts. I have published a list of 1,115 NHS surgeries using expensive Talk Talk numbers (80% of the total of such cases).

If Talk Talk were, exceptionally, to be subjected to a financial penalty for persistent misuse, this could appear to be spite by Ofcom, as many other Silent Callers do not even have their known Silent Calling brought to public attention. Furthermore, as Ofcom is in the habit of not publishing details of the scale of the misuse, we will have no idea about whether or not the penalty is proportionate.

Neither Talk Talk, nor its agent, can be fined for undermining the NHS. It is the GPs who may follow their guidance who are actually breaching their NHS contracts by using expensive telephone numbers. Talk Talk is however a major part of the problem – it could become a major part of the solution.

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