TalkTalk has been fined £750,000 by Ofcom for making an excessive number of abandoned and silent calls to potential TalkTalk customers.

The regulator's investigation found the telecoms giant guilty of breaking a number of rules, including exceeding the limit on the number of abandoned calls a firm can make (see our No Cold Callers guide for how to prevent spam calls).

Key Points

  • TalkTalk fined £750,000 by Ofcom
  • Made excessive number of silent and abandoned calls
  • Also a broke a number of other Ofcom rules

Abandoned calls often occur when a company uses an automated dialling system to phone customers. If there are no staff available to handle calls, consumers will hear an automated message from the company.

Silent calls – where consumers hear nothing – often happen when technology used by call centres thinks an answer machine has picked up the call, and cuts it off.

What did TalkTalk do wrong?

Under Ofcom rules, only 3% of calls firms make in one day are allowed to be abandoned calls. TalkTalk exceeded this limit by a "substantial amount" on four separate occasions between 1 February and 21 March 2011.

Ofcom rules also say abandoned calls must include a recorded message stating who has called and how consumers can opt out of future sales calls. In some calls TalkTalk failed to play that message, resulting in silent calls, which are completely against the regulations.

These two failings meant TalkTalk made roughly 9,000 too many silent and abandoned calls to consumers.

It also broke Ofcom rules on using answer machine detection technology.

Where call centre equipment detects an answer machine, any repeat calls to that number on that same day should only be made if a call centre agent is guaranteed to be able to handle the call. But TalkTalk failed to follow this policy on one day between 1 February and 21 March 2011.

TalkTalk also couldn't guarantee how accurate its answer machine detection technology was, as it didn't keep "adequate" records on how it was working.

A TalkTalk spokesman says: "In February and March 2011, two of TalkTalk's suppliers, Teleperformance and McAlpine Marketing, made a number of silent and abandoned marketing calls.

"TalkTalk demands high standards from the companies it works with and as a result TalkTalk immediately stopped using these suppliers.

"Both suppliers addressed the root cause of the problem and TalkTalk will fully recover the financial penalty imposed by Ofcom from these companies."

Nuisance calls crackdown

Earlier this year Ofcom announced a crackdown on nuisance calls, including teaming up with other regulators and conducting research into the issue (see the Ofcom to tackle nuisance calls MSE News story).

Ofcom's consumer group director, Claudio Pollack, says: "Silent and abandoned calls can cause annoyance and distress to consumers. Companies must abide by the law and Ofcom's policies. If they fail to do so then Ofcom will take firm action.

"Today's penalty sends out a strong message to organisations using call centres that they must comply or face the consequences."