Taxman taken to task over volume of ‘silent calls’

Paymaster general Dawn Primarolo revealed last week that technology to stop
silent calls would not be rolled out across HMRC until March 2007, in reply to a
question from Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming.

Call centres can automatically call phone numbers, but sometimes leave the
respondent without an operator on the end of the line, known as silent calls.

Communications regulator Ofcom is attempting to stamp out the practice, and
in March of this year obtained the powwwer to fine those who breach its rules up
to £50,000 per call.

Organisations using automated calls must carry a recorded information message
that identifies the source of the call and includes a calling line ID that
allows people to dial 1471 to obtain the number of the automated call.

Abandoned call rates should not be more than 3% of calls made in any 24-hour

Although HMRC’s system leaves caller ID details, it does not carry a message.
The department says this will be resolved by March 2007.

‘If HMRC can’t comply with the law, it should turn down the volume of calls
it makes until it is resolved,’ said Hemming. ‘You can reconfigure their systems
to do this, and it would lead to fewer abandoned calls. HMRC shouldn’t escape
the law just because it is a government department.’

Ofcom declined to comment on the department’s situation.

A spokesman for the tax authority said: ‘HMRC recognises the distress that
can be caused by silent calls, which is why, when using an outbound dialler
system, we ensure anyone missing a call would have the option of calling our
number back.’

‘We are currently undertaking work to upgrade our systems and expect to have
the technical ability in place from March 2007 to play the Ofcom recommended
recorded messages across all our systems.’

This week, Carphone Warehouse, Brakenby Kitchens, Space Kitchens and IDT
Direct (trading as Toucan) were notified by Ofcom on grounds of persistent
misuse of an electronic communications network.

They have until 6 December to make representations.

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