DAVID HICKSON's SILENT CALLS BULLETIN

Special Update 17 August 2005

This page covers my full story as it stands today.

See the special links below for the latest position.

THE MAIN BULLETIN, covering some of what I know about Silent Telephone Calls, is retained as it was at 23 July 2005. This adds a lot of detail to the summary that follows.

I start my complaint

Since 1 September 2003 I have been campaigning for Ofcom (or Oftel as it was then) to use the powers granted under Sections 128 - 131 of the Communications Act 2003 to cause those making Silent Calls to cease the practice.

I have presented a formal complaint to this effect and have added details about specific companies as I have obtained them from monitoring calls I have received. At various times this has been helped by use of the call tracing facility provided by BT, my service provider.

My first specific complaint was against Kitchens Direct (formerly known as MKD Holdings Ltd). After investigations that took a total of 18 months, this led to a notification issued under the terms of Section 128 of the Act on 3 May 2005. This notification did not however require the company to cease making Silent Calls. We wait to see what further action Ofcom will take with this company.

I am challenged by the DMA

When discussing the outcome of this case with a representative of the Direct Marketing Association on 5 May 2005, I was challenged to offer my own suggestion of a solution to the problem. Both the DMA and Ofcom did not wish the telemarketing industry to lose the productivity benefits offered by predictive diallers. An inevitable consequence of their use is some cases where there will be no agent available to complete a call that is answered (an NAA call).

I suggested the alternative that is obvious to anyone who has been taught how to use the telephone - when someone answers your call, you announce who you are and state the purpose of the call. If you are a call centre and there is no agent available to do this you must use a recorded message. You do not leave the line silent and then hang up leaving the person wondering who has called them and why the caller hung up when the call was answered.

This suggestion was dismissed with the statement that "it is illegal".

I find the answer

I subsequently discovered that such a message would only breach regulations if the message had a "direct marketing purpose". The Office of the Information Commissioner, which enforces the relevant regulation, confirmed this to me in an e-mail message on 9 June 2005. I copied this to the DMA on the following day.

Since that date I have been trying to persuade the DMA and call centres to take note of this confirmation and to go ahead with implementation of the Informative Message as a preferable alternative to the Silent Call. A consultancy named Darryl Beckford Ltd has picked up on this idea and prepared a draft Code of Practice for its use. A number of call centres are ready to start implementation. These call centres have however been anxious to ensure that Ofcom supports the view that the Informative Message is not illegal.

I have a "good week"

John Hemming MP joined the campaign to stop Silent Calls shortly after his election on 5 May in response to representations from his constituents in Birmingham, Yardley. We have John to thank for securing confirmation from Ofcom on Monday 15 August that the Informative Message is not illegal.

I issued a media release on Tuesday 16 August announcing that use of the Informative Message in place of the Silent Call was able to go ahead.

During media coverage of this news on 17 August, the DMA announced that it would be putting in motion the steps necessary to change its Code of Practice to require use of the Informative Message in place of the Silent Call.

I have further complaints taken up

Ofcom is currently engaged in 7 investigations into companies who had been found to be making Silent Calls. These were launched on 16 June. During these investigations Ofcom has indicated that it will make no public statements on the issue. I am unable to confirm the precise basis for these investigations although I can state the following.

Ofcom used evidence provided by BT covering traces of Silent Calls. This enables Ofcom to focus its limited resources where there is clear indicative evidence of persistent misuse and on the likely worst offenders. This evidence was obtained after the initial provision of unidentified statistical data from which Ofcom was able to identify those responsible for the greatest amount of nuisance. I was responsible for suggesting and instigating this slightly complex procedure, which is necessary to respect various protocols.

Ofcom was also responding to specific consumer complaints. I have named 4 of the 7 companies being investigated in my complaint.

I continue to watch Ofcom

Whilst undertaking these investigations Ofcom is in discussion with the DTI. There have been a number of indications that Ofcom is reviewing its policy in relation to use of the relevant powers. I have pointed out to Ofcom that Section 131 of the Communications Act requires Ofcom to publish its general policy with respect to use of the powers before it is applied by using the powers. It would also be normal to engage in a formal process of stakeholder consultation before publishing a revised statement of policy.

I have pointed out to Ofcom that there is no need to change its formally published policy. It simply needs to implement it, as I requested in 2003. It is this same, unchanged, request that I continue to repeat. The confirmed legality of the Informative Message removes what has been improperly used as an impediment to this implementation.

I look ahead

We wait to see what will happen.

This is not the end of the Silent Call. We could however be very close to the end of the officially sanctioned Silent Call.

 Special Links

BBC News and Breakfast TV - 17 August 2005

Item on Radio 5 Live - 17 August 2005

PLEASE REFER TO THE MAIN BULLETIN FOR MORE INFORMATION AND LINKS