Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Hoax calls

Hoax calls

People who harass others by repeatedly making false, grossly offensive, obscene or menacing telephone calls are committing an offence which can have a seriously detrimental effect on the health and well-being of the person receiving the calls. All calls to emergency numbers such as 999 are recorded and can be traced. Mobile phone service providers co-operate with the emergency services in the UK who can request offending phone numbers be disconnected in certain circumstances.

Those who make hoax calls to emergency services are uselessly wasting vital services, and could be endangering the lives of others by diverting them from those in genuine need.

For information about malicious harassing calls, see our Intimidation and harassment section.

Dealing with hoax calls

If an individual is engaged in making hoax calls, it is important to ensure that they realise the consequences of their actions. An education scheme or even short placement with the local emergency services might be an effective intervention. If it is a group of young people engaged in this activity, it may be effective to divert their time into other, more constructive activities.

If an individual is involved in persistently making hoax calls, an acceptable behaviour agreement or contract could be made or in serious cases an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (in Scotland or Northern Ireland) could be applied for.

For more information on acceptable behaviour contracts and ASBOs, see our Solutions (England & Wales) and Solutions (Scotland & Northern Ireland) sections.

The law

It is an offence to send false or grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing messages under the Communications Act 2003. See Intimidation and Harassment section above.

Hoax calls are illegal under Section 49 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 which states that: 'A person commits an offence if they knowingly give or cause to be given a false alarm of fire to a person acting on behalf of a fire and rescue authority' (the relevant legislation in Northern Ireland is Article 23 of the Fire and Rescue Service (Northern Ireland) 2006).

Where that person is found guilty of this offence, in England and Wales they will be liable to a fine of up to £2,500, imprisonment of up to 51 weeks or both, and in Northern Ireland, they will be liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months.

In England and Wales a person who uses a public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety, may also be issued with a fixed penalty notice for disorder of £80 under the penalty notice for disorder scheme provided for by section 1-11 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001.

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