The home insurance and repairs firm HomeServe has been fined £750,000 by Ofcom, after the telecoms regulator found it had been making an excessive number of silent and abandoned calls to consumers.
The fine, the first to be ordered since the maximum penalty was drastically increased in 2010, was levied on Thursday after an investigation that began last year. There is a limit on the number of silent or abandoned calls that can be legally made, and Ofcom found HomeServe to have breached that limit on 42 separate occasions between 1 February and 21 March, 2011.
"Our rules are there to prevent consumers suffering annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety from silent or abandoned calls," Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack said in a statement. "We hope today's fine will send a strong message to all companies that use call centres that they need to ensure they are fully compliant with the rules or face the consequences."
Call centres often use automated diallers to call prospective customers, but sometimes do not have enough staff to actually join those calls when they are made. The result is that some people receive annoying silent calls.
Similarly, call centres sometimes also use answer machine detection technology that is supposed to automatically hang up when the call is put through to an answering service. When this technology misreads the speech of a real person picking up as the start of an answering machine message, this can lead to quickly-abandoned calls.
In the period Ofcom was concerned with, HomeServe had made 14,756 abandoned calls.
Our rules are there to prevent consumers suffering annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety from silent or abandoned calls.– Claudio Pollack, Ofcom
"Ofcom rules also prohibit companies from making repeat calls to specific numbers within the same 24 hour period, where a call has been identified by [answer machine detection] technology as having been picked up by an answer machine," the regulator said. "Ofcom found that HomeServe made an estimated 36,218 calls in breach of this rule."
HomeServe has 30 days to pay up. In a case note on its website, Ofcom said it would publish a non-confidential version of the HomeServe penalty notification "in due course".
The maximum fine for silent and abandoned calls was raised from £50,000 to £2m in September 2010. The HomeServe fine is the first to be levied since that change, although there are still outstanding cases against energy company npower and communications provider TalkTalk over the same issues.