Persistent nuisance calls in the spotlight.


Ofcom has recently completed its lengthy review and consultation on how it uses its powers to tackle persistent misuse. This is the first time this has been reviewed since 2010, and could potentially lead to some large changes with regards to the calling behaviour of organisations who make calls to members of the public.

Primarily the report focuses on the two types of call which represent the majority of nuisance complaints, namely, silent and abandoned calls.

Silent calls

As part of the review, it was realised that silent calls are by far the most common and most damaging type of contact. There are an estimated 1.5 billion silent calls received by UK consumers annually.

To differentiate them from abandoned calls, it has been recommended that the definition of a silent call be further clarified as follows:

“When the call recipient experiences one of the following, we consider that they have received a “silent call”, or a call equivalent to a silent call and which we are likely to treat as such:

  • they hear nothing on answering the phone (silence);
  • they are disconnected by the calling party as soon as or shortly after they pick up the phone;
  • they hear background or distant noise, whether spoken or otherwise, such as chatter (but the conversation is not directed at the call recipient), breathing or electronic beeps;
  • they hear something else which falls short of a message (whether spoken or otherwise) directed at the call recipient; or
  • they experience a combination of the above, such as a short period of silence followed by disconnection by the calling party (known as a short duration call).”

On top of the new definition, the proposal aims to change the threshold for the number of silent calls being made before action is taken. At present there is some leniency granted to companies to cover for potential technological concerns, specifically with the use of Answer Machine Detecting (AMD) technology. Under the new proposals there would be zero tolerance for any silent calls.

The primary reason for the change would be to drastically reduce the most numerous and impactful areas of nuisance calls. Zero tolerance would also make it easier for regulatory bodies to tackle cases of such calls with less hindrance.

Potential impacts for companies would mainly be in the technology they use for their dialler campaigns; AMDs were specifically highlighted as a leading cause of silent calls. While 100% efficiency of such devices cannot be guaranteed, using them in conjunction with IVRs, or removing them entirely, would mitigate the issue.

Abandoned calls

Although significantly smaller in volume than silent calls; only around 200 million a year; abandoned calls still represent a significant concern for Ofcom. Abandoned calls are described as follows:

“Abandoned calls can occur, for example:

  • in relation to live calls – where the calling party makes calls, whether using an Automated Calling System (ACS) or not, with a view to live agents speaking directly to call recipients. The call may be abandoned because, for example, an insufficient number of agents are available to take the call. In this case, the call can be, and usually is, abandoned immediately when the call recipient answers the phone and the recipient hears an automated message;
  • in relation to automated calls involving interaction from the call recipient – for example, where Interactive Voice Messaging (“IVM”) is used and the call recipient answers the phone and hears an automated message which asks them to press a button to speak to an agent or to answer a series of automated questions before being connected to an agent. Where the call recipient has indicated a preference to be put through to an agent, the recipient may experience an abandoned call (for example, through a lack of agents to take the call) and instead hear an information message (which may or may not be after a period of being placed in a queue for an agent); and
  • in relation to calls which would otherwise have been abandoned – where the call recipient answers and would have heard an automated message (usually an information message) instead of being connected to a live agent. However, the call recipient disconnects the call themselves before the message is played. This could occur, for example, where the technology used by the calling party is capable of identifying when a call recipient has terminated the call before it starts to play the message.”

Similar to silent calls, the threshold at which action is taken could also be changed. Currently, companies are only investigated if their Abandoned Call Rate (ACR) is above 3% of total calls on a single day. However, it’s been found that certain companies would keep an ACR between 2%-3% on a daily basis rather than look to eliminate them altogether.

Under the new proposals, 3 abandoned calls would be enough to trigger an investigation for nuisance calls. Furthermore, Ofcom will investigate all calls in the period of investigation, not just the days where 3 or more abandoned calls were made.

The consultation for this review ended on 24 February 2016 with an aim for publication in Q1 2016-17. It is expected that the revised policy would come into force two months after the actual date of publication. Full details of the consultation can be found here.