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Ofcom welcomes increase to silent calls financial penalty

Ofcom has welcomed Parliament’s decision to increase the amount firms can be fined for silent and abandoned calls from £50,000 to £2 million.

Ofcom believes that the increased maximum penalty should pose a greater deterrent to companies using automated diallers, which can cause silent and abandoned calls.

These systems dial large numbers of telephone numbers automatically and connect the customer to agents as soon as the phone is answered. But problems sometimes occur when these systems generate more calls than can be answered by call centre staff.

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: ‘Ofcom welcomes the decision to increase the maximum penalty to £2 million for companies breaching rules on silent and abandoned calls.

‘The increase reflects the potential seriousness of the harm caused to consumers by the unsolicited and intrusive nature of silent and abandoned calls and enables Ofcom to regulate these activities more effectively.’

Silent and abandoned calls

The majority of abandoned and silent calls are caused by automated calling systems known as diallers.

Mainly used in call centres, these systems dial large numbers of telephone numbers automatically and connect the customer to agents as soon as the phone is answered.

But problems occur when these systems generate more calls than can be answered by call centre staff resulting in the call being terminated – or abandoned – when you answer the phone.

Silent calls can also occur when technology used by call centres to detect answer machines mistakes a live consumer for an answering machine and cuts off the call without the person hearing anything.

Number scanning (also known as ‘pinging’) occurs when calls are made to find out which telephone numbers, out of a range of numbers, are in service or not. As soon as a tone is received which establishes the status of a particular number the call is terminated. This activity is carried out in order to develop lists of active telephone numbers.

All companies using automated diallers should present a Calling Line Identification number on your telephone’s display, and allow you to obtain the caller’s telephone number by dialling 1471.

However, the deliberate sending of an inauthentic or misleading number from which it is not possible to identify the caller and which does not enable the recipient of a call to return a message is a form of misuse.


Ofcom introduced rules to tackle silent calls in 2006 and since then we have investigated and fined a number of companies, including Carphone Warehouse, Abbey National and Barclaycard, which was fined the then maximum amount of £50,000 in September 2008.

Last year Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe called for stronger powers to clampdown on silent and abandoned calls.

Speaking before a Parliamentary Committee on 16 January 2009, Colette said silent calls were a ‘serious abuse which causes untold concern to older people who are very, very disturbed by silent calls, and it is an unacceptable face of the industry and we need stronger powers to tackle it’

Ofcom has an open monitoring and enforcement programme that seeks to address consumer harm created by silent and abandoned calls.

As well as the action against Carphone Warehouse, Abbey National and Barclaycard, Ofcom has also taken enforcement action against  Complete Credit Management Ltd, Equidebt Ltd, Ultimate Credit Services Ltd,  Space Kitchens, Bracken Bay Kitchens and Toucan.

Persistent telephone misuse

The increased fine could also be imposed for other forms of persistent telephone misuse such as:

  • number scanning;
  • withholding calling line identification facilities;
  • using systems for dishonest gain; and
  • misusing allocated telephone numbers.

Ofcom is currently consulting on amending its policy on tackling abandoned and silent calls including introducing new rules to address repeat silent calls and will publish a statement shortly.

The proposed new rules would see a limit introduced on how often companies which use answer machine detection are able to call a consumer’s answer phone within a certain period.

Consumer Guide

If you want to learn more about silent calls and what causes them, take a look at our video above.

It looks at the rules Ofcom introduced to address this issue, and includes help and advice on what to do if you receive a silent call.

We also have a printed guide containing help and advice about silent calls.

Click here to download it.

Subtitled version of the video




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