The telephone service provider behind the Richard and Judy phone in competition ‘you say we pay’ has been fined a record £150,000, the largest fine ever imposed on a premium rate phone regulator.
On the show viewers were encouraged to phone a £1 a minute number for the chance to win a cash prize, but Eckoh UK Ltd continued to take calls after the shortlist of the final of the competition had been decided i.e. there was no chance of winning. In fact between the 29th January and the 15th of February 47% of all calls were taken after the final shortlist had been drawn up.
According to the ICSTIS chairman Sir Alistair Graham: “The size of the fine reflects the very serious nature of the breach of our Code of Practice………the Hearing Panel found clear evidence of fundamental failings in the winner selection process. Winners were being chosen before the competition closing deadline, whilst millions of additional viewers were still encouraged to phone in and pay to enter competition but were denied the opportunity of fair consideration.”
He went on to say: “Such reckless disregard for viewers is unacceptable. In this case, viewers were not only ‘paying competition entrants’ but also consumers who enjoy a high degree of consumer protection already provided by ICSTIS,”.
On top of the record fine the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of the Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS) has also ordered that all quiz entrants be refunded. But “The panel note that a refund scheme, operated by Channel 4, is in place already. However, the panel was told that this scheme requires consumers to provide evidence of their having telephoned
the relevant premium rate line before a refund will be made. The scheme may thus not be compliant with paragraph 8.7.2(h) of the Code which provides that where refunds are ordered they should be made ‘unless there is good cause to believe that such claims are not valid’. As such “the panel agrees with the Executive’s suggestion that the payment of refunds be ordered, but that this sanction be suspended generally to come into effect only in the event that the current refund scheme does not comply with the Code. This sanction will lapse after the period of one year”.
ICSTIS can only fine the service provider not the television production company (Cactus TV) or Channel 4. Ofcom is though conducting an investigation under its broadcast code which could potentially affect both the broadcaster and production company.