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Telecoms watchdog rapped over silent calls performance

12th Nov 2010
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The UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom must improve its performance in handling silent calls and make efforts to boost comparatively low levels of consumer switching, government auditors have warned.

In a report entitled ‘The Effectiveness of Converged Regulation’, the National Audit Office criticised Ofcom for failing to reduce the number of complaints made about silent calls, which had not dropped in an overall sense since 2006.

Despite an initial fall following the introduction of fines, complaint levels had fluctuated widely and were now higher than ever. This situation was in contrast to a general reduction in the number of complaints received in relation to mobile mis-selling.

But the fact that the maximum fine for silent calls had recently been increased from £50,000 to £2 million should increase the deterrent effect, the report said. The regulator has been working to address the issue of nuisance calls for some time, with silent calls accounting for 70% of all complaints to the telecoms regulator.

The NAO also warned Ofcom that improvements were required to make it easier for consumers to switch between service providers and said that the regulator needed to better understand why the UK’s churn rate remained relatively low.

While the auditors likewise acknowledged that Ofcom was doing "more with less" due to annual efficiency savings of £24 million since 2004, which meant that its £122 million annual budget was now 27% less than predecessor organisations, they found it impossible to tell whether it was providing value for money. This was because the regulator was failing to either set out its consumer goals or clarify whether it had achieved them.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: "Ofcom has reduced its overall expenditure each year since its creation and we have seen many positive indicators in communications markets. In order to demonstrate that it is delivering value for money, however, Ofcom should demonstrate sharper objectives and metrics to better link its costs with the outcomes it achieves."

Ofcom was set up in 2003 following the merger of five regulators.

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