HomeServe and nPower face £2m fines for silent calls

Ofcom has warned that HomeServe and npower could be slapped with fines of up to £2m each after breaching rules on cold-calling customers.

The telecoms watchdog issued notifications to the two companies over "persistent" offences related to its automated calling operations, as part of an ongoing investigation.

The investigation found that from the beginning of February to 21 March, the insurance group HomeServe "made an excessive amount of abandoned calls" as well as repeatedly calling certain numbers during the same day when the technology identified that it had gone through to an answer machine.

Energy group npower also has a case to answer over an excessive number of abandoned calls, Ofcom said. It added the group "included marketing content within a recorded information message played in the event of an abandoned call".

The companies have until 10 August to explain themselves to the regulator and cut out the practice or face "further action" including a possible financial penalty.

HomeServe's issues lay with one of its external telephone marketing agencies which used technology that caused the problems. The company said it came across the issue during an internal audit and immediately tried to remedy it. A spokesman said it was now fully compliant with Ofcom regulations.

nPower, however, was defiant yesterday. A spokesman said: "We've noted what Ofcom has said. We think it is difficult to justify the words persistent and excessive." He added: "We are very confident that we are in control and are meeting Ofcom's standards." Companies breach the rules when the silent or abandoned calls make up more than 3 per cent of total calls made. npower said that only occurred twice.

Silent calling happens when telemarketing call centres generate more calls than available agents can manage. As there is no one to talk, the computer just hangs up. Ofcom said it "remains committed to dealing with the unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety which consumers can suffer by silent or abandoned calls".

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