David Hickson's Silent Calls Victim Blog

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Monday, 25 January 2010

Response to BIS Consultation on increase to maximum penalty for Silent Calls

My response to the consultation is now submitted and published here.

I aim to point out that the maximum level of the potential financial penalty has little to do with Ofcom's failure to discharge its duty to citizens and what was demanded of it by parliament when the penalty was increased previously -

"We expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls".

I point out the following:
  • Ofcom has not been using its powers properly.
  • Ofcom's policy is for a limited tolerance of Silent Calls.
  • Ofcom pretends to hold powers of regulation which do not exist.
  • The BIS Department should not have proceeded with meeting Ofcom's request for an increase to the maximum penalty without looking closely at Ofcom's policy and the way it was being implemented.
  • Parliament will be urged to reject a BIS proposal to grant Ofcom's request if it comes forward with no further assurances about changes to the present Ofcom policy.
I repeat a previously declined request to engage in detailed discussions about the issue. The purpose of these would be to expand as necessary on the content of my response and to discuss what may need to be done to ensure that a BIS proposal could be put before parliament in a way that could be found acceptable.

As the proposition in the consultation is expressed as being tougher on Silent Callers it is unlikely to be rejected. There are inevitably very few who are aware of the actual nature of Ofcom's powers and the way in which these are being misused.

The body of my response contains no reference to the fact that the proposal being addressed came from a former employee of Ofcom, who had taken the constitutionally questionable role of an temporary ennobled Minister in the Department.

BBC News Channel - 25 January 2010

Talking about Silent Calls with Sara Coburn in "Business" slot on BBC News 24.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Silent Calls Consultation Closes Monday 25 January 2010

An article has appeared in the aptly named "Callcentre Helper" - Last chance to support the £2 Million fine to ban silent calls.

"Call Centre Focus" has published an article urging responses to the government consultation - Silent calls deadline looms.

The Call Centre industry appears to believe, like Ofcom and the Department for Business, that the threat of major penalties will create the impression that the problem is being addressed and therefore ease public anxiety.

I retain my belief that Ofcom needs to ACT, proportionately, using the powers that is has always held, to cause those found to be practising misuse to cease (not limit) their nuisance

I have posted my comments to both journals, on the proposed increase to the maximum penalty, essentially as follows:

It is long overdue action by Ofcom, using the powers that it holds, that would "tackle the problem more effectively". The potential for use of a greater penalty remains meaningless unless it is thought likely to be used.

The two million pound fine is nothing more than a cover for Ofcom's continuing failure to make proper use of the powers that it holds.

Abbey was only worth £30,000 and Carphone Warehouse £35,000; it took 18 months of investigation before Barclaycard was given the maximum penalty of £50,000.

Ofcom appears to have given up on all bar companies bigger than the first two and investigations of less than 3 years, as it has not announced any investigation begun since April 2007.

Who is the mythical giant that Ofcom believes to be responsible for all of the nuisance that people continue to complain about?

If the maximum penalty is increased, how long will investigations take and who will be likely to suffer a higher penalty?

Regardless of any deterrent effect of a larger penalty, the key actions points for Ofcom are as follows:

  • Stop pretended that general regulations can be imposed on all users of diallers. Ofcom has no such power.

  • Stop pretending that Silent Calls somehow do not cause inconvenience, annoyance and anxiety if the caller happens to make enough completed calls that day to remain within the 3% tolerance, or left the call silent due to AMD rather than there being no agent available. (All Silent Calls sound the same to me!)

  • Use the persistent misuse powers as they were intended, not as if they are the same as the powers which Ofcom holds to enforce regulations on providers of telecommunications services (a totally different function held by Ofcom).

  • Issue Notifications of Persistent Misuse against all those found to be in the habit of making Silent Calls, so as to get them to stop, rather than pressing on with an extensive investigation to see how big a fine may be imposed.

  • Issue Enforcement Notifications against those who do not immediately cease the practice - this (and only this) places them under an enforceable regulatory requirement to do so.

  • Continue to impose penalties, up to the maximum on each occasion, for each identified breach of an Enforcement Notification. Where necessary, progress to seek an injunction, so that further breaches may be subject to criminal sanctions.
All of this has been possible since Ofcom inherited the powers from Oftel in 2003. My opposition to the previous increase to the maximum penalty helped cause parliament to only grant it on the express condition that:

"we expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls".

In applying for the new increase, Ofcom admits that the approach it has been following has not come close to having this effect.

Whether or not a greater penalty will itself make Ofcom more or less effective is open to debate. The fact is that there are many other things that Ofcom should be doing first.

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