npower fined for making abandoned calls

06 December 2012

The conclusion of an Ofcom investigation has today found npower, the gas and electricity supplier, to be in breach of rules on abandoned calls.

The investigation into npower found that the company made 1,756 abandoned calls to UK consumers and played messages containing marketing content during abandoned calls over a seven-week period.

This activity was found to be in breach of legislation1 and Ofcom rules, although the harm was at the lower end of seriousness of the cases that Ofcom has dealt with.

Ofcom now expects npower to remedy the harm caused, as required by the Communications Act.  We understand that the company will be providing compensation to those who suffered harm as a result of the breach.

Taking into account this offer to compensate consumers, the number of occasions that npower was non-compliant with the rules, and the steps it has since taken to bring itself into compliance, Ofcom has imposed a fine of £60,000 on npower.

Abandoned calls

An abandoned call is a phone call which, as soon as the consumer picks up the receiver, an information message is played instead of a person being on the other end of the line.

Abandoned calls can be caused by automated diallers, which organisations use to maximise the amount of time their calling agents spend speaking to consumers. These diallers are mainly used in call centres to dial telephone numbers automatically and connect people to call centre agents as soon as the phone is answered.

Problems may occur, however, when dialler systems generate more calls than are answered by call centre agents. For example, if the dialler makes a call but there is no call centre agent on hand to deal with it, a consumer might receive an abandoned call.

Ofcom investigation

Ofcom has the power to impose financial penalties for the 'persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communications services'.

Under Ofcom's rules, there is a limit on the number of abandoned calls that organisations can make before Ofcom will consider taking formal enforcement action. Where there is a breach of this limit, Ofcom is likely to deem the 'persistent misuse' to be serious.

Ofcom's investigation into npower found that the company had exceeded an abandoned call rate of three per cent of live calls over a 24-hour period on eight separate occasions between 1 February 2011 and 21 March 2011. This resulted in 1,756 abandoned calls being made to consumers.

Ofcom rules also prohibit organisations from playing recorded messages that include marketing content in the event of an abandoned call. Ofcom found npower to be in breach of this rule on 1,906 calls.

Financial penalty

Ofcom has decided that it is appropriate and proportionate to impose a financial penalty of £60,000 on npower. The fine is payable to Ofcom and passed on to HM Treasury and npower is required to pay it within 30 days of receiving the penalty notification.

Ofcom's Consumer Group Director, Claudio Pollack, said: "Our rules are there to protect consumers from suffering annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety from abandoned calls.

"Organisations using call centres must comply with the rules or face the consequences. Where we find there to be breaches, even at the lower end of the scale, we can exercise our powers and take action."

Further details about Ofcom's investigation into npower can be found here.

Consumer guide

Ofcom recently published a guide for consumers on how to reduce the number of nuisance calls and messages they receive and how to make a complaint.

The guide has been produced in collaboration with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Ministry of Justice and the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). It has also been endorsed by consumer groups including Citizens Advice, Consumer Focus, the Communications Consumer Panel and the National Consumer Federation.

It is available to download now from the Ofcom website.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Section 130 of the Communications Act 2003 gives Ofcom the power to impose financial penalties on parties found to have persistently misused an electronic communications network or electronic communications services. In September 2010, Parliament approved an increase in the maximum financial penalty available to Ofcom to use to combat persistent misuse from £50,000 to £2 million.  Ofcom has an ongoing monitoring and enforcement programme that seeks to address consumer harm from 'persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communications services'. Where informal enforcement action is not effective, Ofcom proceeds to an investigation and notification and/or fine. This has resulted in action against 11 companies to date (including npower) resulting in financial penalties. TalkTalk is still currently under investigation.