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Further assessment of ICSS

24 April 2014: Update on the ICSS prior permission regime

Below is an update to both the PhonepayPlus ‘Final Statement on a prior permission regime for ICSS’ (‘Final Statement’) and the ICSS notice issued on 6 December 2013. In the Final Statement following consultation, PhonepayPlus set out clear evidence of consumer harm along with evidence gathered from research undertaken by Jigsaw relating to consumers perception of these services.

The new prior permission regime came into force on 12 September 2013, and 42 applications were made ahead of that date.  The prior permission regime was temporarily suspended pending resolution of a legal challenge. At the same time we reaffirmed our expectations under the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (‘the Code’), and ICSS providers were encouraged to voluntarily implement the conditions set out in the prior permission notice dated 31 July 2013, so as to also comply with the Code .

Following the resolution of this challenge, amendments to four conditions of the regime have been agreed. These amendments and details of the action required by ICSS providers are contained in the download below.

Download the full update
A full update on the  information, connection and/or signposting services (ICSS) prior permission regime

The updated prior permissions notice for providers of information, connection and/or signposting services (ICSS) can be found via the following link:

Prior Permissions notice: Information, connection and/or signposting services (ICSS)


6 December 2013: Update on the ICSS prior permission regime

For providers of information, connection and/or signposting services (ICSS) as defined in the Final Statement dated 31 July 2013

Background

This is an update to the PhonepayPlus Final Statement on a prior permission regime for ICSS (dated 31 July 2013) (‘the Final Statement’). In the Final Statement PhonepayPlus set out clear evidence of consumer harm, along with evidence gathered from research undertaken by Jigsaw  relating to consumers’ perception of these services, and decided that it would proceed with the introduction of a new prior permission regime for ICSS (‘the Decision’). 

The new ICSS prior permission regime came into force on 12 September 2013 and by this time PhonepayPlus had received 42 applications. On an initial consideration of these applications a number of them appeared to meet (or were close to meeting) the standards required by the conditions set out in the Final Statement (‘the Conditions’).

Since receipt of these applications, three applicants have jointly initiated judicial review proceedings against PhonepayPlus in respect of the Decision, as a result of which we have decided to suspend the ICSS prior permission regime pending resolution of the legal challenge to the Decision. The effect of this decision is that, for the time being, ICSS providers will not be required to obtain prior permission from PhonepayPlus in order to operate existing or new ICSS services. For those ICSS providers that have submitted applications for prior permission these will be kept on file pending resolution of the legal challenge. 

Notwithstanding the decision we have taken to suspend the ICSS prior permission regime, we reaffirm our expectations under the Code of Practice (‘the Code’) in respect of the provision of ICSS and in particular for ICSS providers to continue to seek to achieve, and maintain compliance with, the standards set by the Conditions. ICSS providers should be mindful that, in voluntarily implementing the Conditions they are also complying with the Code.
PhonepayPlus expects all ICSS providers who are not already complying with the Code to make changes to their service in order to ensure that consumers are adequately protected. For the avoidance of any doubt, where changes are not made and/or complaints are received PhonepayPlus will consider commencing enforcement action against the relevant ICSS providers. We will continue to provide compliance advice where requested (having regard to the Conditions) to ICSS providers to assist them in complying with the Code.

The Conditions and achievement of Code compliance

As the Final Statement makes clear, the purpose of the ICSS prior permission regime was to address widespread non-compliance with the Code by such services and/or providers.
We believe that the Conditions, which are focussed around four distinct aspects of ICSS, will now be highly valuable to ICSS providers in enabling them to improve their services and thereby comply with a range of obligations and rules under the Code. These Code provisions include:
 
(i) Rule 2.2.2
(ii) Rule 2.2.5
(iii) Rule 2.3.1
(iv) Rule 2.3.2
(v) Rule 2.3.4
(vi) Rule 2.4.1
(vii) Rule 2.4.3
(viii) Rule 2.4.4
(ix) Paragraph 3.6.1
(x) Paragraph 3.6.2
 
The four distinct aspects of ICSS considered in the Final Statement are:

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Promotions and promotional material (including website landing pages for the service)
  • Alerts on connection
  • Collection of personal data from consumers

In general terms, an ICSS must be clearly understood by the consumer from the SEM stage and the consumer must be able to make a fully informed transactional decision to call the premium rate service instead of seeking out other sources, which are potentially free, elsewhere.

PhonepayPlus expects providers to take greater responsibility for making consumers aware of the specific service they offer and the premium rate service cost associated with accessing the information consumers have searched for. Where an ICSS fails to clearly and straightforwardly explain that it is not associated with the end organisation or government department to which the information or service sought actually relates, the ICSS promotion is highly likely to mislead consumers as to the true nature of the service.

The Conditions, which we believe will assist all ICSS providers in complying with their obligations under the Code and meet our expectations in this regard, can be found by clicking here.
We would strongly encourage all ICSS providers to take note of all the requirements of the Conditions and adopt them on an on-going basis.

Enforcement of our Code of Practice

PhonepayPlus has been committed to working with industry throughout the review and consultations relating to ICSS. Notwithstanding the legal challenge, we have a continuing responsibility to protect consumers from the harm caused by those who continue to act in breach of the Code by ensuring that all ICSS providers achieve acceptable standards of compliance with the Code.
Therefore, following this update, we may commence enforcement action against any ICSS providers that continue to promote and operate ICSS in a manner that is not compliant with the Code.
PhonepayPlus welcomes the efforts of those who have already improved their services to meet the necessary high standards demanded by consumers, along with those providers who have suspended services pending such changes being made. We will continue to provide compliance advice where requested (having regard to the Conditions) to ICSS providers who wish to bring their services into compliance with the Code.


31 July 2013: Final statement following consultation published

Following this consultation and a consideration of the responses PhonepayPlus released a final policy statement on the 31 July 2013. This statement gives notice that providers of ICSS will be required to seek prior permission to continue to operate ICSS, and that applications for permission must be received by 11 September 2013. A Notice setting out the requirement, and the conditions under which permission will be granted, is attached at Annex A of the Statement.

Please click here for PhonepayPlus' final policy statement referring to this consultation.


24 April 2013: The consultation

On 24 April 2013 PhonepayPlus published a further public consultation on a proposed prior permission regime for Information, Connection and/or Signposting Services (ICSS). An initial consultation on ICSS closed on 27 September 2012. Both consultations address the issue of Information, Connection and/or Signposting Services.  These are premium rate services that are usually promoted prominently on search engines such as Google or Bing, or sometimes on classified ads websites such as Gumtree, and, after further consideration, these can be defined 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.”

The initial consultation was prompted by a significant number of complaints about these services, including from the public service and commercial organisations whose helplines or information ICSS providers associate themselves.

On the basis of responses to the initial consultation, including responses from ICSS providers, PhonepayPlus considered it necessary to commission independent research to gain further quantitative and qualitative evidence relating to the user and public perception of ICSS and to understand the consumer experience of these services. PhonepayPlus has reviewed and considered this evidence in relation to the proposed regulation of ICSS and is issuing this consultation following that review.

In the consultation issued today, PhonepayPlus proposes a prior permissions regime to ensure that such services can only operate if PhonepayPlus is satisfied that they meet the conditions and enhanced obligations specified in the prior permissions regime.

The 6-week consultation on these proposals closed on 5 June 2013.

Please click here for the consultation document.

Responses to the consultation

AIME
BSkyB Group
BT
Communications Consumer Panel
Clix Connex Ltd
Live Box Ltd
Numbers Plus Ltd
Telefonica UK
The Electoral Commission
The Number UK Ltd
Red Play Media Ltd
Vodafone