Beware sending ‘nuisance messages’

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced fines totalling £495,000 to well-known companies that between them sent more than 354 million ‘nuisance messages.’

We Buy Any Car was fined £200,000 for sending more than 191 million emails. The firm also sent 3.6 million nuisance texts.

Saga Services Ltd and Saga Personal Finance were fined £150,000 and £75,000 respectively for instigating more than 157 million emails between them. Sports Direct has been fined £70,000 for sending 2.5 million emails.

None of the companies had permission from people to send them marketing emails or texts. And as the ICO stressed, it is against the law.

The ICO is also warning that it is not just large businesses that will face action when it comes to unsolicited marketing. It stresses that the law equally covers the activities of SMEs.

Andy Curry, ICO head of investigations, said: “Getting a ping on your phone or constant unwanted messages on your laptop from a company you don’t want to hear from is frustrating and intrusive.

“These companies should have known better. The fines show the ICO will tackle unsolicited marketing, irrespective of whether the messages have been orchestrated by a small business or organisation, or a leading household name.

The law remains the same and we hope the action sends out a deterrent message that members of the public must have their choices and privacy respected.”

He added: “Companies that want to send direct marketing messages must first have people’s consent.

“And people must understand what they are consenting to when they hand over their personal information.

“The same rules apply even when companies use third parties to send messages on their behalf.”

The ICO says its investigations into the companies were sparked by complaints from the public.

It says We Buy any Car sent emails to people who had requested an online valuation of their vehicles. The Information Commissioner found that the initial emails, sent after a valuation request, were made within the law.

However, subsequent emails which also promoted the We Buy Any Car service were unlawful because they contained marketing as well as being sent without consent. The company sent more than 191 million emails between April 2019 and April 2020, plus 3.6 million text messages. It has been fined £200,000.

Both Saga Services Ltd (SSL) and Saga Personal Finance (SPF) instigated emails using partner companies and their affiliates, the ICO says.

These companies used data lists of people who had not given the companies permission to contact them. SSL instigated more than 128 million emails between November 2018 and May 2019 and SPF more than 28 million over the same period.

The companies say they relied on indirect consent, however the ICO stresses that the laws around electronic messages are stricter as they are more intrusive, and this form of consent is “not adequate”.

SSL has been fined £150,000 and SPF £75,000. Both companies have also been issued with enforcement notices ordering them to stop any illegal direct marketing within 30 days or face court action.

The ICO says Sports Direct sent 2.5 million emails as part of a re-engagement campaign between December 2019 and February 2020 with people it had not contacted for some time.

It was unable to show any evidence of consent to contact the recipients. The company has been fined £70,000.

The ICO has issued 17 fines totalling more than £1.7million so far this year (2021/22) for breaches of direct marketing laws.

Under the Data Protection Act 2018 organisations processing personal information are required to pay a data protection fee unless they are exempt.

They need to renew the data protection fee each year or tell the ICO if their registration is no longer required. If they fail to do so, the ICO can issue a monetary penalty of up to £4,000 on top of the fee.

It is the law to pay the fee, which funds the ICO’s work, but it also makes good business sense because whether or not you have paid could have an impact on your reputation.
To find out if you need to pay visit https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/data-protection-fee/self-assessment/