The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Halfords Limited £30,000 for sending 498,179 unsolicited marketing emails to people without their consent.
Halfords came to the attention of the ICO following complaints in relation to a direct marketing email about a “Fix Your Bike” government voucher scheme, which was sent on 28 July 2020.
The government scheme allowed people to use a voucher worth up to £50 towards the cost of repairing a bicycle in any approved retailers or mechanics in England. However, Halfords’ marketing email encouraged people to book a free bike assessment and to redeem the voucher at their chosen Halfords store. This amounts to marketing its services which would generate income for the company.
The ICO investigation found that Halfords’ email message clearly advertised a service provided by the company, and that Halfords could not rely on legitimate interest to send the marketing email, as claimed by the company.
According to electronic marketing rules, legitimate interest cannot be used as an alternative to consent when sending electronic marketing messages. The soft opt-in exemption however, allows organisations to send electronic marketing messages to customers whose details have been obtained during the course of a sale or negotiations for similar services, but it must offer a simple way for people to opt out.
The ICO ruled that Halfords could not rely on the soft opt-in exemption for customers that received the email, as they had already not opted in to receive emails from the company.
Head of Investigations, Andy Curry said:
“It is against the law to send marketing emails or texts to people without their permission. Not only this, it is a violation of their privacy rights as well as being frustrating and downright annoying.
“Halfords are a household name and we expect companies like them to know and act better. This incident does not reflect well on the internal advice or processes and therefore a fine was warranted in this case. This also sends a message to similar organisations to review their electronic marketing operations, and that we will take necessary action if they break the law.”
Organisations can access ICO guidance and resources on the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which gives people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic marketing communications.
Notes to Editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
- The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications. There are specific rules on:
- marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
- cookies (and similar technologies);
- keeping communications services secure; and
- customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.
- The ICO’s powers under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) which cover nuisance marketing include issuing fines of up to £500,000. It can also apply for court orders for winding-up companies and, by working closely with partners, get director’s disqualified. More details of this work are available here.
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.