Repeat silent calls to be banned, Ofcom says
People who feel harassed by repeated silent phone calls are set to be given greater protection by the telecoms regulator Ofcom.
It is proposing to ban firms from dialling a number with an answer phone more than once in a day.
The regulator has been trying to tackle the nuisance calls since 2005 and has fined several firms since then.
But complaints about repeat silent calls still account for 70% of the complaints lodged with Ofcom.
"Silent and abandoned calls can be very irritating and even frightening for some people," said Ofcom's chief executive, Ed Richards.
"By tackling repeat silent calls, backed by firm enforcement action, Ofcom expects to see a sharp reduction in consumer harm."
The silent calls are typically generated by the automatic dialling equipment used by call centre staff.
When too many people answer at one time for the staff to deal with, the call is cut off.
Current Ofcom rules say abandoned calls should always play a message telling people who has just phoned them.
But silent calls sometimes arise when the automatic diallers, which automatically end calls to phones with answer machines, make a mistake.
In these cases, people are mistaken for the answer machines and are cut off, leaving them listening to dead air.
The new rules will restrict automated calls, from the same company to any number with an answering machine, to just one call in 24 hours, unless the call centre has someone available to talk to the person who responds.
The problem of silent calls has been in decline since its peak in 2008, since when Ofcom has fined nine firms, one as much as £50,000.
The number of complaints received by Ofcom about silent calls has fallen from 1,300 in October 2000 to 825 in March this year, but it is still a considerable problem.
Ofcom pointed out that calls made by the mass-dialling systems are rarely malicious and can be useful, for instance when a bank wishes to contact many customers in one go, to alert them to possible frauds.
Abandoned calls are already supposed to be limited to no more than 3% of all calls made in any 24-hour period.
The regulator wants to bring in a new dialling rule early in 2011.