The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) wants people to support their elderly relatives or neighbours if they are receiving nuisance marketing calls. 

The appeal came as a company selling funeral plans was fined £80,000 for making unlawful marketing calls to people who had made it explicitly clear they didn’t want to receive them.

The ICO launched an investigation after a national newspaper had reported allegations of illegal practices at a call centre in Cheshire, run by a company which at the time was called Plan My Funeral Avalon Ltd.

The investigation revealed the company – which shortly afterwards changed its name to Avalon Direct Limited - had made almost 52,000 calls to people who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) between 1 March and 20 November 2017.

It is against the law to call people registered with the TPS, unless you have their specific consent. Avalon said it had purchased numbers from a third-party lead provider, but had no specific consent to call people registered on the TPS. It failed to carry out proper due diligence or check the numbers against the TPS register.

Andy Curry, Enforcement Group Manager at the ICO, said:

“The funeral plan industry has been on our radar for a while and it is fair to say the sector as a whole has had some issues in terms of complying with the law. That’s not always reflected in volumes of complaints, however, because the very nature of this particular sector means the people being targeted for funeral plan sales may be older, potentially more vulnerable and may not be as technologically savvy or as active online.

“We would ask people to speak to their older relatives, neighbours or friends and make sure they are registered with the TPS. If they have still been getting nuisance calls, they can help report these calls to us as this helps us build up intelligence on companies and sectors where we need to take action.”

As well as an online reporting tool on the ICO website, nuisance calls can also be reported via the helpline 0303 123 1113.

People can register their landline and mobile numbers with the Telephone Preference Service via its website or by calling 0345 070 0707.

The ICO’s investigation into Avalon found two of the company’s directors at the time of the contravention, had previously been involved in an unconnected ICO investigation and that the company involved in that case had been fined in January 2018 for carrying out unsolicited direct marketing.

Those same two people were also the directors of the lead generator company used by Avalon for the data collection in this current case, so they would have been fully aware of their legal obligations surrounding direct marketing, consent and the TPS register. The ICO understands the directors concerned are no longer associated with Avalon.

In addition to the fine, Avalon has also been served with an Enforcement Notice ordering it to improve its practices.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. 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.

      We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.
  4. The ICO has the power under PECR to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  5. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  7. To report a concern to the ICO, visit ico.org.uk/concerns.