Are you being investigated?
We aim to resolve as many issues as we can informally, and with the full co-operation of service providers. We receive complaints from consumers as part of our day-to-day operations and will frequently enquire with service providers when there appears to be consumer harm or some other non-compliance with our Code.
We only launch a formal investigation when we believe (through assessment of criteria set out in our Code and our Supporting Procedures) that the particular harm or breach of our Code warrants it. On average 83% of our cases were resolved informally without the need for a full investigation, thereby saving time and money for everyone and advancing the best interests of consumers.
We strongly encourage service providers to co-operate with the PSA when we get in touch about a service.
As a registered service provider, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are complying with the Code, Special conditions and any issued guidance. You should also ensure that you co-operate with us when we contact you in relation to an investigation. Failure to do so may be a breach of our Code or considered as an aggravating factor.
How investigations work
When we receive complaints from consumers we will consider them. Where we identify phone-paid service that appear to not comply with the Code of Practice we investigate them. Depending on the issues identified, and our consideration of criteria set out in the Code and Supporting Procedures, we may decide to give the service provider the opportunity to remedy the Code breach without carrying out a formal investigation under the Code. In more serious cases, we will normally carry out a formal investigation under the Code: this will take the form of either a Track 1 or a Track 2 procedure.
Stages of an investigation:
Urgent actions we may take during investigation
The PSA has a range of powers in the Code which it can use at any point during an investigation - before any formal adjudication of potential breaches of the Code takes place. The powers include directing suspension of a service (for example, where there is serious harm or risk of harm to consumers requiring urgent corrective action), and directing that service revenue be withheld (where, for instance, there is evidence that a provider cannot or will not comply with any financial sanction that may be imposed in due course). These are known as ‘interim measures’. The decision to impose interim measures is made by a Tribunal.
If interim measures are considered to be appropriate, the PSA will follow the relevant procedures as set out in paragraph 4.6 of the Code.
Tribunal decisions and sanctions
If a Tribunal decides a provider has breached the Code, it can impose one or more of the following sanctions as are appropriate and proportionate:
- issue a reprimand and/or warning
- order a provider to give refunds to specified or all consumers, subject to making a claim to the provider. In more serious cases refunds can be ordered for all some or all consumers without the need for a claim
- impose a fine, up to a maximum of £250,000 per upheld breach of the Code or for the combined breaches upheld
- bar access to the service for a defined period or until compliance advice is satisfactorily implemented
- require a provider to remedy the breach of the Code
- require a provider to obtain compliance advice or permission to run a service
- require a provider to submit to a compliance audit of the service carried out by a third party
- ban a provider or individuals associated with the provider from running involvement in some or all phone-paid services, or contracting with a specific party, for a defined period.
The PSA will impose administrative charges towards the costs incurred by it in bringing cases to a conclusion. This power is set out at paragraph 4.11 of the Code of Practice.
Can Tribunal decisions be reviewed?
If a provider disagrees with a decision made by a Tribunal on breaches and/or sanctions, it can contact the Executive and ask for a review of the Tribunal decision by a differently constituted Tribunal. Except in exceptional circumstances, the request must be submitted within 10 working days of publication of the decision. Applications for review must be in writing and specify which of the four permitted grounds for review apply.
Procedures relating to reviews can be found at paragraph 4.10 of the Code. Further detail can be found at paragraphs 272 to 279 of the Supporting Procedures.
Why would the PSA request information from you?
There are a number of reasons why the PSA may contact a Level 1 (L1) or Level 2 (L2) provider for information regarding the promotion, operation or content of a premium rate service. We may request information at the enquiry stage of an investigation or during a formal investigation under the Code. Where it is the latter we will do this under paragraph 4.2.1 of the Code. See the Supporting Procedures for further details as to when we will contact a L1 or L2 provider after receiving a complaint or initiating an investigation. A request for information at the enquiry stage does not mean that a company, person or service is under formal investigation.