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On the case - October 2008

USA and UK change Telemarketing Rules

Almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, changes have been made to the rules covering telemarketing. It seems that a combination of consumer pressure and Government concern means that the sector will be under the spotlight for the foreseeable future.

In the USA the Federal Trade Commission - which is charged with regulating telemarketing - has reacted to significant consumer complaint and announced that pre-recorded telesales messages now require signed opt-in in writing from the consumer. Unsolicited recorded calls have been banned in the UK since 2003 and the Information Commissioner has taken action under the PECR regulations (including rapping political parties on the knuckles for use of this technology).

The US ban came into effect with very little warning in September and the FTC has stated that companies who continue to use pre-recorded messages on the basis of consent must include an opt-out option (effectively an unsubscribe) in all calls made from December of this year. The UK regulations require that all pre-recorded marketing messages must include the identity of the caller and a contact address or Freephone number.

Meanwhile the other UK body which controls telecommunications, OFCOM, has revised its guidance on the control of silent calls. Ironically, in the UK it is permitted to use a pre-recorded message to tell an individual that a call centre has attempted to call but that no operator was available – thus avoiding a completely silent call. The content of these “information messages” is strictly controlled. The new rules state that the information message must be played “no later than two seconds after the telephone has been picked up” and must include a no charge number for the individual to opt-out of future calls.

Other changes require that repeat calls within 72 hours of a silent call must only be made with the “guaranteed presence of a live operator” so that the experience is not repeated. Meanwhile the FTC has re-enforced the silent call limit of 3% over a 30 day period which matches the UK limit.

OFCOM is unrepentant for tightening up the rules: Even if they have failed to reduce the volume of silent calls to an “acceptable” level they believe that “sustained pressure by
OFCOM creates a climate in which there are continuing improvements in call centre practice.”

The climate seems to be getting decidedly chilly for telemarketers on both sides of the pond.


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