The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined H&L Business Consulting Ltd £80,000 for sending hundreds of thousands of text messages to people who had not consented to receive them.          

H&L Business Consulting Ltd, of Penrith, Cumbria sent 378,538 unsolicited direct marketing text messages between January 2020 and July 2020. This resulted in more than 300 complaints.

The company sought to capitalise from the pandemic by directly referencing lockdown. The content of the text messages was:

  • “Get Debt FREE during the Lockdown! Write off 95% of ALL DEBTS with ALL charges and fees FROZEN. Government backed. Click http://outofdebtuk.co.uk. Stop 2optout” (sic)
  • “Get Debt FREE during the Lockdown! Write off 95% of ALL DEBTS with ALL charges and fees FROZEN. Government backed. Click http://out-of-debts.co.uk. Stop 2optout” (sic)

The spam messages promoted a “government-backed” debt management scheme, despite the fact that the company was not authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to provide regulated financial products or services.

The company director tried to evade the ICO investigations with different tactics since 2019, but investigators were determined to bring this company to account for plaguing people’s lives with thousands of spam messages.

Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations, said:

“H&L Business Consulting Ltd sought to capitalise on the COVID-19 pandemic by sending thousands of unwanted text messages directly referencing lockdown, targeting people that may be feeling vulnerable due to the health crisis. This resulted in more than 300 complaints from the public who said they felt anxious and annoyed by those messages.

“The company director failed to cooperate with our investigations through concealing his identity by using false company details on his websites; changing the wording on the text messages; and, changing his company’s registered address after becoming aware of our investigation. None of this worked. We found sufficient evidence to fine this company for disrupting people’s lives with spam messages.”

H&L Business Consulting Ltd has also been issued with an enforcement notice by the ICO, ordering it to stop sending unlawful direct marketing messages.

Spam texts and emails, as well as nuisance calls can be reported through the ICO’s website at ico.org.uk/concerns. Mobile phone users can also report spam texts to the Mobile UK Spam Reporting Service by forwarding the message to 7726.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. It has its head office in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and regional offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) and a further five Acts / Regulations.
  3. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  4. 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.
  5. The ICO has the power under PECR to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000. It can also apply for court orders for winding-up companies and, by working closely with partners, get directors disqualified. More details of this work are available here.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Consolidated Fund, which is the Government’s general bank account at the Bank of England, and is not kept by the ICO.
  7. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.