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Action plan to tackle nuisance calls

Ofcom has today announced a plan to tackle the growing problem of nuisance calls, which can cause considerable concern and annoyance for consumers.

The plan comes as Ofcom publishes its annual Consumer Experience Report, which tracks key trends in consumers’ use of communications services to inform Ofcom’s regulatory and consumer protection initiatives.

The 2012 report shows a reported year on year growth in the number of consumers experiencing silent calls. In support of its ongoing enforcement work to tackle silent and abandoned calls, Ofcom is today announcing a five-point action plan in response to this growing trend. It also addresses the wider issue of nuisance calls.

The research suggests that, during a six-month period in 2012, almost half (47%) of all adults with a landline experienced a silent call, up from a quarter (24%) in 2011. Silent calls are a type of nuisance call usually caused by automated dialling systems used in call centres.

Over the same six-month period, almost three quarters (71%) of landline customers said they received a live marketing call, while 63% received a recorded marketing message.

Ofcom’s plan

Ofcom’s five-point plan brings together industry, regulators and Government to help address nuisance calls:

1.  New Research

Ofcom is aware that many consumers find it difficult to distinguish between the different types of nuisance calls. We have therefore commissioned new research, which aims to create a clearer picture of the problems consumers experience.

A sample of UK adults will keep a diary recording any calls that they receive, holding on the line long enough to be able to determine the nature of the call, and detailing their experience.

This will help to understand the frequency of the different types of nuisance calls and the companies and sectors generating them. Ofcom intends to share the findings with other bodies such as the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Office of Fair Trading, and the Ministry of Justice.

2. Tracing those behind nuisance calls

In 2013, Ofcom will work closely with industry to identify ways to trace companies behind nuisance calls where they try to hide their identity, and to look at ways to prevent such calls.

3. Improving Compliance

Ofcom’s guide explains the different types of nuisance calls and messages and includes  advice on what action you can take to protect yourself and who you can complain to.

The guide was produced in collaboration with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Ministry of Justice and the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

It has also been endorsed by consumer groups including Citizens Advice, Consumer Focus, the Communications Consumer Panel and the National Consumer Federation.

Read the nuisance calls guide

Ofcom will write to businesses making calls in the UK warning them of the requirement that they abide by Ofcom’s rules on silent and abandoned calls. Those that breach these rules could face fines of up to £2m.

4. Coordinated action

Ofcom has regulatory responsibility for tackling silent and abandoned calls. It has also committed to playing a role in a coordinated effort to tackle the wider issue of nuisance calls alongside other regulatory bodies, such as the Information Commissioner’s Office and Government.

Ofcom has already published an online consumer guide to tackling nuisance calls and messages in collaboration with other regulators and consumer groups, which has been viewed online over 50,000 times.

5. Enforcement action

Ofcom will continue to take enforcement action where appropriate to ensure companies comply with its rules on silent and abandoned calls. Ofcom issued fines totalling over £800,000 within the last year to HomeServe and npower. TalkTalk is currently under investigation.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: ‘Nuisance calls can cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety to consumers. This is a complex and challenging area, but Ofcom is determined to work with industry and other regulators to help protect consumers. Our new research will help to understand the root cause of the problem.’

Ofcom’s Consumer Experience Report

The current research into nuisance calls is contained in Ofcom’s Consumer Experience report for 2012.

The report includes comprehensive data drawn from consumer research and market intelligence, and measures consumers’ experience of the electronic communications and postal markets. It also includes a policy evaluation which explains how Ofcom’s regulatory and consumer protection initiatives are targeted to achieve good outcomes for consumers.

One feature identified in the report is the continuing trend towards buying communication services as part of a bundle. Bundlers show the highest levels of interest and activity in services and are more likely to have switched providers.

In the first quarter 2012, 57% of consumers were subscribers of a bundled service, up from 40% in the same period of 2008. Dual-play landline and broadband bundles (27%) and triple-play landline, broadband and multichannel TV bundles (19%) remain the most popular packages.

Nearly a fifth (19%) of consumers switched at least one communication service in the past 12 months. Overall levels of switching for each service remain broadly unchanged – with landline at 10%, mobile at 9% and fixed broadband at 9%. Switching main TV providers was lower at 3%.

Research shows that bundlers are more likely to have switched providers, than standalone purchasers. For example, 11% of consumers who purchased their fixed broadband as part of a bundle switched, compared to 4% of those who bought it as a single service.

However, some consumers say they faced difficulty in switching, with fixed broadband being the highest at 15% – equal to that for bank accounts. ‘Hassle’ is cited by consumers who considered switching their fixed broadband service in the last 12 months but decided not to, as the main reason for not doing so. Ofcom is currently reviewing consumer switching processes and will update on this and advise stakeholders of next steps early in 2013.

The Consumer Experience of 2012 is available here.

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