Carphone Warehouse, the fast-expanding broadband provider, has been accused by regulators of flouting the law by making “silent calls” to prospective customers.
The company is among four under investigation by Ofcom, the media and telecommunications watchdog, for using computers to make phone calls to consumers and then failing to connect them to their call centre staff between April and July this year.
Some consumers got “silent calls” because there was no one to speak to. The computers, having initiated the calls, terminated them because not enough staff were available to speak.
Ofcom’s investigation is the latest blow to Carphone’s increasingly strained relationship with consumers. Otelo, the telecommunications ombudsman, on Friday said it had received an “increased amount of complaints” about Talk Talk, Carphone’s phone and broadband service.
Ofcom tightened its rules governing computerised telemarketing in March to reduce instances of “silent calls”.
The other companies challenged by Ofcom are Toucan, the broadband provider bought in September by Pipex, Brakenbay Kitchens and Space Kitchens.
Ofcom concluded “there are reasonable grounds to believe each of these four companies have engaged in persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communication services in a way that causes annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety to consumers”.
It added that the alleged conduct contravened the 2003 Communications Act and the companies could be fined £50,000 for each contravention.
Carphone said it had used telemarketing for sales of mobile phones and promotion of its Talk Talk fixed-line phone service, but not its “free” broadband deal.
The company said it was making progress towards full compliance with Ofcom’s rules. “We will ensure we adhere to industry best practice and then exceed this best practice.”
Shares in Carphone closed up 5¾p at 289¼p.
Pipex said it was “already taking immediate action” to ensure compliance with Ofcom’s rules.
■British Sky Broadcasting said profits were being dented by investment in broadband but surprised investors with the additional subscribers for its pay-television services for the three months to September 30. First-quarter pre-tax profits fell 17 per cent to £166m on a 11 per cent rise in revenue to £1.07bn. The company added 82,000 subscribers.