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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Ofcom continues to fail to address the problem of Silent Calls

From: David Hickson - Stop Silent Calls campaigner

In its summary of its Consumer Experience Report 2010 (Telecoms complaints fall – but challenges remain) Ofcom reports that complaints about Silent Calls are running at record levels. It has however failed to use the statutory powers that it holds to simply notify the offender of what it calls "a breach of the rules" since October 2008.

This can only mean that every one of the 6,600 complaints received in 2009 and the 8,600 in 2010 to date was about a company making Silent Calls within the generous allowance that Ofcom's policy permits. Ofcom says that it will "continue with our policy of enforcement", however there is only one company which Ofcom has made subject to use of its statutory powers of enforcement.

BBC Watchdog recently highlighted BT and British Gas as being amongst the companies making Silent Calls. They both claim to be doing so within the terms of what BT calls "the Ofcom Persistent Misuse Policy". Ofcom clearly agrees, as neither has been notified of a breach; I therefore agree with BT's choice of terminology to describe the Policy.

Ofcom refers to a change of policy that will be implemented on 1 February 2011. This policy suggests that those who make a Silent Call (when caused by use of obsolete and ineffective Answering Machine Detection technology) should repeat the call on successive days. Ofcom's suggestion that "companies will no longer be able to call consumers without the guaranteed presence of a live operator more than once a day" is complete nonsense.

Ofcom does not have the authority to impose such a rule as a general requirement - it can only do so in specific cases, following a Notification of Persistent Misuse. As stated above, Ofcom has only ever used this power once in relation to Silent Calls. Furthermore, Ofcom has no way of monitoring or enforcing such a requirement.

It may be that some companies will follow this policy. The cases reported by Watchdog indicate that the problem with repetition is having every day predictably blighted with suspicion every time the phone rings. The fundamental problem with an intended limitation on repetition is that it confirms tolerance of every initial instance. Ofcom's actual policy, if applied, will simply ensure that more people get a single Silent Call on any particular day.

The fundamental point that Ofcom has always failed to grasp is that NO CALL SHOULD RESULT IN SILENCE from the caller. A tolerance limit of 3% and of only one per person per day is simply an unacceptable tolerance of Silent Calls. Under Ofcom's policy, this is what has to be exceeded for even the first stage of its statutory powers to be used. The potential for a severe fine, which is available at the third stage of use of the powers, may sound impressive. If however companies such as BT and British Gas admitting to making Silent Calls and over 15,000 complaints can fail to cause even the first stage to be used, then Ofcom cannot claim to be addressing the problem effectively.

There will always be cowboys and offshore operators that Ofcom will have difficulty in detecting and acting against. It cannot be seen to be fulfilling its duty when it permits and even encourages large responsible UK companies to make Silent Calls.

No Silent Call is necessary.

Those who use predictive diallers can use an "Informative Message" when a system failure exceptionally leads to there being no agent available to handle an answered call. This is referred to, but poorly specified and not mandated, by Ofcom.

Answering Machine Detection has failed to be effective since general use of tape recorders was replaced by use of network based answering services. Ofcom is wrong to oppose the potential introduction of Answering Service Detection as an effective means of ensuring that calls have been answered by a person. Ofcom is yet more wrong to encourage the use of the obsolete Answering Machine Detection technology, on the spurious and irrelevant grounds that the money saved as a result of inevitably making Silent Calls leads to reduced prices for consumers in the markets for energy and other products and services.

1 comment:

  1. Quote: Ofcom's actual policy, if applied, will simply ensure that more people get a single Silent Call on any particular day.

    That is, a single Silent Call from one particular company on any particular day.

    Multiple Silent Calls are permitted, so long as they are from different companies.


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