ICO issues first of its kind fine for unsolicited marketing texts

The Information Commissioner’s Office has fined a Swansea based company £200,000 for sending thousands of unsolicited text messages. The company, Help Direct UK Ltd, a financial services call centre, launched a marketing campaign in April 2015 which involved sending thousands of messages from unregistered sim cards to members of the public offering services including the reclaim of PPI payments, bank refunds, and loans. The campaign resulted in 6,758 complaints being lodged in one month.

The ICO had issued an enforcement notice seven months ago ordering Help Direct to stop sending unsolicited marketing text messages. The company continued to send messages in breach of the order and was fined for it’s continuing, deliberate breach. This is the first fine under new powers given to the ICO by the Privacy Regulations 2015 which make it easier for the body to issue fines to companies that ignore the rules.  Previously, the ICO had to prove that a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ to individuals by making nuisance calls or sending spam text messages. But from April 2015, the ICO just has to prove that the company was committing a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations (PECR); and either the breach was deliberate or the company knew or ought to have known that there was a risk that the contravention would occur; and the company failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

Anne Jones, Assistant Commissioner for Wales has commented:

 “Help Direct’s actions are unacceptable and we will act to stop companies behaving in this way. We have the power to prosecute anyone ignoring our enforcement notices and, as well as the fine, Help Direct can expect even more action from us.”