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Monday, 13 September 2010

Silent Calls - Ofcom awaits parliamentary endorsement this afternoon

At 4:30 this afternoon a committee of MPs will decide whether Ofcom is to be given a much wanted gift. Ofcom is seeking approval of its current failed policy to use its statutory powers against the nuisance of Silent Telephone Calls. This gift will be delivered by granting its request for an increase to its power to impose penalties on those making Silent Calls.

The present maximum penalty is £50,000. The MPs will be considering a proposal from Dr Vince Cable to increase this to £2 Million.

Some would question why this increase is necessary. Ofcom has not used its powers since completing a handful of investigations begun in April 2007. It would appear that nobody has breached Ofcom's rules since then. As a penalty of £30,000 was considered sufficient for Santander, one wonders who it is who could warrant a penalty of £2 Million.

It took Ofcom 2 years to get round to penalising Silent Calls made by Barclaycard. That is perhaps why it became the first, and only, company to incur the current maximum penalty of £50,000. Perhaps Ofcom intends to wait even longer in future, so that it can impose even bigger penalties.

After having delivered extensive briefings to the members of the committee, I will be attending the sitting. It will be interesting to see if the inevitable approval of the proposed increase is accompanied by any critical comment.

Tomorrow's news will doubtless be of Ofcom's tougher action against Silent Callers with a bigger penalty. This is however all a bluff because the rules that Ofcom will enforce using the penalty allow unlimited numbers of Silent Calls to be made, so long as enough (possibly annoying) calls where someone speaks are made by the same caller on the same day.

Ofcom currently proposes a formal tolerance of one Silent Call per person per caller per day, under the guise of a new ban on "repeat Silent Calls" that will perhaps be introduced next year. Many would have thought that all Silent Calls were already banned - it must come as a shock to some that "repeat Silent Calls" have not yet been banned.

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