Consumer harm from silent and abandoned calls reduces

Fewer consumers are experiencing harm from silent or abandoned calls as a result of Ofcom’s action against companies who make them, Ofcom’s Consumer Experience report published today reveals.

Just under a quarter of consumers (23 per cent) experienced an abandoned call during 2011, down from over a third (35 per cent) in 2009. The number of consumers experiencing silent calls has also fallen from 30 per cent in 2009 to 24 per cent in 2011.

This follows Ofcom’s enforcement action to target companies who do not comply with Ofcom’s rules.

Since September 2010, firms which breach these rules face fines of up to £2 million and Ofcom is currently taking action against Homeserve, nPower and TalkTalk. These investigations are still ongoing and Ofcom expects to issue updates in the new year.

Increase in consumer awareness of how to complain

The research also shows that although there has been a fall in the number of people receiving silent and abandoned calls, consumer awareness about the problem has actually increased. In 2011 Ofcom received around 30,000 visits to the consumer advice on its website about silent and abandoned calls. Increased media coverage, and improvements to Ofcom’s online complaints process have also resulted in an increase in the number of complaints it receives (11,900 to the end of October 2011 compared with 9,000 in 2010).

Consumer Experience Report

Ofcom’s sixth annual Consumer Experience report looks at how the communications market delivers benefits for consumers in terms of competition, choice and price. It also evaluates how Ofcom’s work has benefitted consumers over the past 12 months.

Broadband speeds

Ofcom publishes broadband speeds research every six months looking at the actual speeds consumers receive compared with advertised speeds. The research provides consumers with additional information with which to compare broadband offerings.

In July 2011 Ofcom also published an updated Code of Practice which requires internet providers to give consumers information about the likely speed they can achieve at home before they sign up to a service.

Ofcom’s Consumer Experience research revealed that fewer consumers experienced slower than expected broadband speeds (30 per cent in 2011 compared to 35 per cent in 2010).

Ofcom intends to continue with its research into the actual speeds received by consumers, and will be conducting mystery shopping into compliance with the Code of Practice.

Early termination charges

Over the past two years Ofcom has worked with nine landline providers to reduce the charges they make consumers pay for leaving their contracts early. In some cases charges were reduced by as much as 85 per cent.

Complaints about these early termination charges have almost halved, down from almost 4,000 in 2010 to around 2,000 in 2011 (to end of October 2011). Ofcom continues to monitor compliance with the regulations and will open investigations where necessary.

Consumer switching remains a priority for 2012

The report also outlines the main challenges Ofcom faces to ensure consumers continue to be able to take advantage of these benefits.

The research shows that, whilst bundling communications services (taking more than one service from a provider) provides good value for consumers, switching between providers for bundles is difficult. Consumers were more likely to say switching in the bundled market was more difficult than switching other services individually (23 per cent said it was fairly or very difficult, compared with 9 per cent for digital TV, 15 per cent for broadband, 9 per cent for mobiles and 6 per cent for landlines).

Ofcom has already taken action to improve switching by banning rollover contracts – contracts which automatically roll forward from one minimum term to the next – in the landline and broadband markets. It will continue with its review of consumer switching which aims to improve the consumer experience and remove process barriers to switching.

Consumer Group Director, Claudio Pollack, said: “We are pleased that companies are getting the message that silent calls are unacceptable and we will take action against those that flout the rules. We put the consumer at the heart of everything we do, and we are committed to ensuring that competition in the communications sector delivers benefits for consumers.”