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Ofcom cracks down on menacing 'silent calls'

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Companies that breach new "silent calls" guidelines could be fined up to £50,000 for each offence, under tougher new measures introduced by Ofcom today.

The communications regulator has called on firms that use automated calling systems to generate sales or marketing calls to smarten up their act.

BT, for example, receives more than 112,000 complaints a month from people worried that they've received a "silent" call.

In many cases, though, when people pick up the phone - the line is silent and no-one's there. That's because call centres often generate more calls than they can handle on the basis that some people won't be in to answer the call.

But for people who receive these calls, being met with silence can be menacing and frightening.

From now on, any calls that are abandoned must carry a recorded message telling punters who has just called and giving them the chance not to be bugged again. Call centres must also not hide their number when calling people so that their calling line identification (CLI) is available on all outbound calls.

And the industry must ensure that fewer than 3 per cent of calls end in "silent calls" as opposed to the current industry standard of 5 per cent.

Ofcom hopes that these measures - including asking the Government to increase the maximum fines for offenders from £5,000 to £50,000 - will help combat the problem.

Said Ofcom chief exec Stephen Carter said: "Excessive abandoned calls have become a real problem. We believe new fines and new rules, backed by firm enforcement action, are appropriate and necessary."

Earlier this year MPs called for tougher rules to crack down on unscrupulous callers. Labour MP Kevin Brennan said that elderly people in particular are "unduly inconvenienced by these calls and often believe that they are receiving malicious calls" and that those who find it difficult to get to the phone are "also seriously inconvenienced". ®

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