Abbey fined £30,000 for silent calls

Abbey, the UK bank owned by Spain's Santander, is being fined £30,000 by the telecoms watchdog for causing distress to its customers with silent marketing calls.

The problem occurs when an automatic dialling system rings a large number of people simultaneously, and too many pick up for them all to be connected to an agent. The phenomenon can be upsetting, particularly for older people, and Ofcom can fine offending companies up to £50,000 if more than 3 per cent of a marketing campaign is made up of silent calls within any 24-hour period.

Abbey's penalty is for exceeding that limit on 73.7 per cent of the days between October 2006 and April 2007.

The company says it has now sorted out the problem.

"As part of an ongoing process of improvements, we identified during the summer that management and process controls were not as robust as they should be in respect of our outbound calls," a spokesman said. "Both have been changed and since August we have been working within the guidelines."

The bank is not the first company to have fallen foul of Ofcom's silent-calls rules. In January last year, Carphone Warehouse was fined £35,000 and Toucan, another communications company, was penalised to the tune of £32,000. Two kitchen companies, Space Kitchens and Bracken Bay Kitchens, were also ordered to pay £45,000 and £40,000 respectively. Though the level of fine that can be levied is limited, it still acts as a deterrent, says the regulator.

"This sends an extremely strong signal that unacceptable levels of silent calls will not be tolerated because they have the potential to cause significant distress," a spokesman for Ofcom said.

The guidelines were established in 2006, following reports from BT that it was receiving 80,000 complaints every month from irritated customers.