The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined Unite the Union £45,000 for instigating 57,665 unsolicited telephone calls to members of the union. Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR) direct marketing calls may not be made to an individual who is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) unless that individual has given consent to receiving such calls. Consent must be “freely given, specific and informed”.

United collected its members’ contact details from online and hard copy membership applications and from subsequent changes or additions to those details made via members’ online accounts or by telephone. Members were informed that their details may be used to inform them by post, telephone, text or email of services and benefits available to members and were told how to opt out of receiving information about any particular service or benefit. There was no opportunity, however, for members to select different methods of communication for different categories of service/benefit information or to indicate which third parties they would be happy to be contacted by and by what method.  

In this case, the calls were made by a third party processor engaged by Unite and were intended to inform members about the availability of a “free life insurance and protection review” from Unite Life, a provider of life insurance services. The ICO rejected Unite’s argument that the calls did not constitute direct marketing and noted that the third party processor had continued to make calls in breach of the PECR even after individuals had asked not to be contacted again.

This decision shows the importance of:

  • regular screening of telephone numbers against the TPS register;
  • keeping a “suppression list” of the numbers of individuals who have objected to receiving marketing calls; and
  • giving individuals the opportunity to opt into specific methods of communication and to select which third parties (if any) they are happy to be contacted by.

There is further information on the PECR and on direct marketing generally on the ICO’s website at www.ico.gov.uk.