Ofcom has fined TalkTalk £750,000 for making an excessive number of abandoned and silent calls to potential TalkTalk customers in 2011, through two of its outsourced call centres.
The fine comes after an investigation as part of Ofcom’s monitoring and enforcement programme aimed at reducing harm caused by abandoned and silent calls.
Abandoned calls can occur when a call is made and a person answers the phone, but the caller hangs up. Ofcom’s policy is that abandoned calls must include a recorded information message that says who has called them and how they can opt out of future sales calls.
A silent call is where the phone rings but there is only silence when the person answers it and no information message is played.
Abandoned and silent calls can be caused by a number of things, including the conduct of agents handling calls, or the use of call centre technologies such as answer machine detection (AMD) technology.
AMD systems work by filtering out calls to answer machines, thereby increasing the time agents spend on live calls. But AMD technology can end a call when a person has answered, said Ofcom, because it mistakenly identifies the call as being picked up by an answer machine.
Ofcom’s policy sets a limit on the number of abandoned calls that organisations can make.
Ofcom’s investigation found that during one of its telemarketing campaigns, TalkTalk exceeded this limit by a substantial amount on four separate occasions between 1 February and 21 March 2011.
TalkTalk also failed to ensure that information messages were played, meaning that consumers received silent calls. As a result, TalkTalk made approximately 9,000 silent and abandoned calls to consumers.
During a separate marketing campaign, TalkTalk did not adequately follow Ofcom’s policy by failing to ensure that when using AMD technology to make calls to consumers, it created a reasoned estimate of the technology’s accuracy. It also failed to keep adequate records to demonstrate its compliance with Ofcom’s policy.
Ofcom’s policy also aims to prevent repeat silent calls. If AMD equipment detects an answer machine, any repeat calls to that number on that same day should only be made if a call centre agent is guaranteed to be able to handle the call. TalkTalk failed to abide by this policy on one day between 1 February and 21 March 2011.
Ofcom has therefore decided to impose a £750,000 fine against TalkTalk, which is ultimately responsible for compliance with the law regarding "persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communications service" and Ofcom’s policies on abandoned and silent calls.
Ofcom said TalkTalk was ultimately responsible for the actions of the two call centre operators associated with the breaches - Teleperformance Limited and McAlpine Marketing Limited.
The fine is payable to Ofcom and passed on to HM Treasury and TalkTalk is required to pay it within 30 days of receiving the penalty notification.
Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack said: “Silent and abandoned calls can cause annoyance and distress to consumers. Companies must abide by the law and Ofcom’s policies. If they fail to do so then Ofcom will take firm action.
“Today’s penalty sends out a strong message to organisations using call centres that they must comply or face the consequences.”