Information, Connection and Signposting Services
This compliance update seeks to inform and remind providers of Information, Connection and Signposting Services (ICSS) operating on all UK number ranges of their obligations under the PSA’s Code of Practice and relevant Special conditions, following a change to the definition of controlled premium rate services.
Following public consultation, Ofcom today announced that it has modified the Premium Rate Services Condition (PRS Condition) so that it applies to all ICSS irrespective of the number range or price point the services are operating on1. Ofcom’s statement can be found here.
Previously only ICSS operating on specified number ranges where the charge exceeded 5.833 pence per minute or 5.833 pence per call exclusive of VAT, or on other number ranges where the charge or rate exceeded 10 pence per minute inclusive of VAT, fell within the PSA’s regulatory remit.
The outcome of the modification to the PRS Condition is that all forms of ICSS are now captured and are therefore regulated by the PSA, creating a common regulatory framework across all ICSS.
For ease of reference, ICSS are defined by the PSA as follows:
“Premium rate services, excluding full national directory enquiry services, that provide connection to specific organisations, businesses and/or services located or provided in the UK; and/or which provide information, advice, and/or assistance relating to such specific organisations, businesses and/or services.”
Providers of ICSS, regardless of the number ranges on which they operate, are required to comply with the outcomes and rules of PSA's Code of Practice which cover the following areas:
Legality; all PRS must comply with the law.
Transparency and pricing; consumers of PRS are fully and clearly informed of all information likely to influence the decision to purchase, including the cost, before any purchase is made.
Fairness; that consumers of PRS are treated fairly and equitably.
Privacy; that PRS do not cause the unreasonable invasion of consumers’ privacy.
Avoidance of harm; that PRS do not cause harm or unreasonable offence to consumers or to the general public.
Complaint handling; that consumers are able to have complaints resolved quickly and easily by the provider responsible for the service and that any redress is provided quickly and easily.
Providers of PRS also have general responsibilities under the Code to perform due diligence and risk assessment on any providers they are contracting with for the provision and operation of services, to ensure that the requirements of the Code are always satisfied. For more details please see the Due diligence; risk assessment and control on clients guidance note.
It is a general responsibility for all providers involved in the provision and operation of PRS to register their organisation with the PSA prior to operating any PRS and register services with the PSA within 48 hours of the service becoming accessible to consumers (except where providers are solely operating 087 services which are not deemed to be ‘high risk” and therefore subject to Special conditions), except where an exemption applies. Registration requirements are due to be updated in early 2019.
All those involved in the provision, operation and promotion of ICSS, (including Network operators and number resellers) must register with the PSA regardless of the number ranges they operate on.
Registration is completed on the PSA website. The registration fee is £155 plus VAT and registration must be renewed yearly.
In addition to the need to comply with the Code, ICSS operating on 09 and 087 number ranges are subject to a set of specific Special conditions (Part 3 of the Code of Practice 'General Responsibilities' 3.11). Special conditions exist for categories of service where the PSA is satisfied there is or is likely to be a risk of a significant level of consumer harm; or unreasonable offence to the general public, arising from a particular category of premium rate service (defined as “a high-risk service” within the Code).
The Special conditions for ICSS were introduced in 2015, at which time a risk assessment was carried out for those number ranges which were within the PSA’s regulatory remit. The PSA therefore has not carried out any assessment of the risk associated with ICSS operating on number ranges which were out of remit.
The PSA will consult in early 2019 on extending the ICSS Special condition regime to ICSS operating on all number ranges, along with a review of the conditions to ensure they remain fit for purpose.
The PSA would like to remind providers of ICSS operating on 09 and 087 number ranges of their obligation to comply with Special conditions for Information, Connection and Signposting Services. For more details please see the Notice of Special conditions for ICSS.
To avoid misleading consumers in any way the Special conditions require providers of ICSS to clearly and prominently identify within all promotional material (including SEM and SEO) the true nature of the service along with the cost of calling it, and a clear and prominent link to the homepage where the actual contact details of the relevant public body or commercial organisation can be found.
The Special conditions also require promotional material for ICSS to be distinct in appearance from that of the organisation being sought, providers should not use official logos or trademarks or any typefaces, descriptions or colour schemes which may be perceived to imitate any third-party organisation.
ICSS must also play an introductory alert at the beginning of calls which states the nature of the service, the cost of the call, the identity of the provider operating the service or that the provider is not the organisation being sought, and the name of the organisation the consumer is being connected to. When registering services with the PSA providers of ICSS must include details of the company or organisation in which the premium rate number is connecting to. We would like to draw attention to Special condition ICSS 13 which states:
ICSS providers must notify the Phone-paid Services Authority, within 48 hours of making the service accessible to the public, of all applicable telephone number(s) or access code(s) used for the operation of the service and their specific designated purpose. Where these change or new numbers are added, all such telephone number(s) or access code(s) must also be notified to the Phone-paid Services Authority within 48 hours of their being put into public use.
For example, this information may include a premium rate number (PRN) beginning 09, a voice shortcode, and details of the company or organisation or service to which the number connects:
- PRN 09xxxx120321 - VSC 65xx0 - offers connection to ‘XL TV Co Ltd’
For the avoidance of doubt, while the example included in the Special condition uses a number prefixed with 09, this condition currently applies to ICSS which are also operated on 087.
All providers falling within PSA’s regulatory remit are reminded that PSA is funded by an industry-wide levy applied to all controlled PRS revenue share outpayments (excluding 100% charity donation pass through). This levy is collected from network operators, who may deduct if from the outpayments they make to parties in the value chain. This levy payment will apply to all PRS within the PSA’s remit, including ICSS. Details of the current applicable levy can be found here.
The PSA will consider all consumer complaints, monitoring evidence and information from other sources which we receive about ICSS and all other PRS, and where appropriate pursue enforcement action against any provider of ICSS found to be in breach of the Code and/or Special conditions. For more details please see our enforcement procedures. In the more serious cases where breaches of the Code are upheld by the PSA’s independently functioning Tribunal, providers can be fined a maximum of £250,000 for each breach, and companies and individuals can be prohibited from operating in the market.
As Ofcom’s Statement sets out, the change to the PRS condition will take effect on 16 January 2019. By this date we expect all ICSS and ICSS providers which have not previously fallen into our regulatory remit to have done the following:
registered themselves and their services with the PSA
reviewed all ICSS services which are operated and/or promoted through their platforms and ensure compliance with the Code
performed Due Diligence and Risk Control assessments on clients who operate ICSS, in line with the requirements set out in the Code.
We would remind providers of ICSS who already fall within the PSA’s remit, of their continued obligations as noted directly above. Providers may wish to check that their existing registration is correct and up to date, and that any obligations set out in the Code or Special conditions relating to ICSS and/or clients who are ICSS providers, are complied with.