Home insurance and repairs company HomeServe has today been fined £750,000 by telecoms regulator Ofcom for making excessive silent and abandoned calls to consumers.

It made over 50,000 such calls between 1 February and 21 March 2011. Those affected can claim back £10 in compensation per household if they received such calls from the company, though consumers may struggle to know whether they have a claim to make.

Anyone could have been a victim, not just HomeServe customers.

A silent call is where there is no-one on the other end of the phone when you pick up.

Key Points

  • HomeServe fined for making silent calls
  • Those affected can claim £10 compensation
  • Calls made between 1 February and 21 March 2011

Customers who think they've had a silent or abandoned call from HomeServe during the period above, when Ofcom found it had breached its rules, have until 31 May this year to call the company on 0800 389 5280 to get their claim investigated.

HomeServe will give £10 to those whose telephone number matches its records of those contacted.

Of course, you may not remember if you were called, or have any idea who the call was from.

Dan Plant, MoneySavingExpert.com money analyst, says: "We love it when regulators take action to help consumers. But the way this is planned sounds like a total farce. How on earth is anyone supposed to remember a silent call received more than a year ago? After all, it was silent.

"For this to deliver the redress intended, HomeServe ought to have been made to proactively locate and compensate customers. Otherwise, how else will the full compensation be paid, without every Tom, Dick and Harry calling the freephone number on a whim?"

Ofcom investigation

The probe into HomeServe began last year as part of a programme aimed at reducing harm caused to consumers by such calls.

Ofcom says answering a ringing phone to find no-one on the line can often cause annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety for those who receive them.

Silent calls occur when a company uses an automated dialling system to phone customers. If more customers pick up than there are staff to handle calls, some will pick up to a silent line.

Abandoned calls, on the other hand, occur when a firm's technology ends calls when a person has answered because it mistakenly identifies the call as having been picked up by an answer machine.

Ofcom says when this happens, you may also hear an automated message from the company.

What did HomeServe do?

Ofcom places a limit on the number of abandoned calls a company can make. HomeServe exceeded this on 42 separate occasions between 1 February and 21 March last year.

This resulted in an estimated 14,756 abandoned calls made to consumers. HomeServe also made a 36,218 silent calls in that time.

HomeServe blames a third party telemarketing company working on its behalf, which it no longer uses.

It insists all of its dialler systems have been fully compliant with Ofcom regulations since 22 March last year.

Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack says: "Our rules are there to prevent consumers suffering annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety from silent or abandoned calls.

"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."

For help on how to stop silent calls see our Stop Spam Calls guide.

Last October, HomeServe suspended telephone sales and said it was going to retrain nearly 500 call centre staff, after discovering possible mis-selling of its household emergency policies (see the HomeServe suspends sales MSE news story).