On September 25, 2015, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (the “ICO”) issued a fine of £200,000 (approximately $303,000) to Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd. (“HELM”) for making a large number of automated marketing calls in violation of the UK’s direct marketing laws. This is the largest fine that the ICO has issued to date in connection with automated marketing calls.
HELM specializes in energy saving products and made automated telephone calls to potential customers with the aim of persuading them to purchase solar panels as part of the UK government’s “Green Deal,” a project encouraging homeowners to make energy-saving improvements to their homes. HELM admitted making in excess of six million automated calls. Between October 2, 2104 and December 12, 2014, the ICO received 242 complaints regarding the calls.
Sections 19(1) and (2) of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (“PECR”) state that automated calls may only be made to an individual for direct marketing purposes if that individual has given prior consent to receive such calls from the caller. The ICO found that HELM had contravened this requirement by failing to obtain prior consent from the recipients of the calls. HELM admitted that they were not aware of the PECR requirements noted above. The ICO considered HELM’s breach of PECR sufficiently serious to warrant a substantial fine, particularly because the automated marketing calls gave the misleading impression that the solar panels were available for free.
The ICO has stated that this fine should serve as “a warning to other companies to think before they launch into a campaign.” The ICO also has provided detailed guidance to assist companies in complying with PECR and other relevant legislation when conducting direct marketing campaigns.