Ofcom takes action against Debt Masters Direct over abandoned and silent calls

Who: Ofcom and XS-Remarketing Ltd (trading as Debt Masters Direct)

Where: UK

When: 19 May 2015

Law stated as at: 12 June 2015

What happened:

As part of its on-going own-initiative investigation, Ofcom has given Debt Masters Direct notice under s.128 of the Communications Act 2003 (the “Act”). The notice sets out that Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that, between 9 March 2014 and 28 April 2014, Debt Masters Direct persistently misused an electronic communication network or service by, among other things, making multiple abandoned and silent calls from its call centre during each of 37 separate 24 hour periods. The full list of believed misuses can be found here.

Debt Masters Direct has until 17:00 on 15 June 2015 to (1) make a representation about these matters, (2) take steps to ensure that the misuses are brought to an end and not repeated, and (3) remedy their consequences. After this date, Ofcom may issue an enforcement notice under s.129 of the Act, which may be enforced in civil proceedings and impose penalties under s.130(2) of the Act.

Why this matters?

The rise in the number of abandoned and silent calls has been subject to public attention and is expected to spark reform. Ofcom is currently reviewing the responses to its call for inputs on how its persistent misuse policy should be changed. It plans to publish a consultation report later this year.

On 25 September 2010, the order came into force increasing the maximum penalty for persistent misuse from £50,000 to £2 million. To date, the record penalty is £750,000, which was imposed in 2012 against HomeServe, the insurance and repairs company. HomeServe is said to have made an estimated 14,756 abandoned calls in a seven-week period. An enforcement notification against Debt Masters Direct will reveal whether these figures have been surpassed. More intriguingly, it may offer clues about the impending consultation.

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