The Information Commissioner’s Office has fined a Lincolnshire mortgage brokerage firm £50,000 for breaching the law relating to marketing texts.

The firm sent 174,342 nuisance marketing texts about mortgages between June 2019 and June 2020, most of which highlighted a fall in buy-to-let interest rates and invited the recipient to call to discuss a BTL mortgage.

The firm was apparently operating under the misapprehension that all recipients had consented to receiving the marketing texts when they contacted the firm via their website to obtain a quote. However, the ICO says that the firm was not entitled to use the customer data for marketing purposes as, at that stage, people were not offered the option to opt in or out of receiving marketing material.

The regulator therefore concluded that the firm had breached section 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

The General Data Protection Regulation states that consent must be freely given, specific and informed and there must be an indication signifying agreement given ‘by a statement or by a clear affirmative action’. Again, that would appear not to have been the case here, given that the recipients simply enquired about the firm’s services and never explicitly opted in to receiving marketing communications.

An example of one of the firm’s messages was:

“Hi XXX I hope you are well, Its XXX from [trading name of firm], you previously made a Buy to Let Purchase enquiry with us. Since the Pandemic Buy to Let rates have dropped to 1.19% if you are looking to purchase a Buy to Let property then please reply with a time that is convenient for you or alternatively please call us on [phone number of firm] opt 1 and we will be free to speak with you. Kind Regards XXX [trading name of firm]”

The investigation only covered the 12-month period between June 2019 and June 2020, but the firm has admitted using the same marketing approach since 2015, so the actual number of breaches could be significantly higher.

The fine will be reduced to £40,000 if the firm pays by January 4 2021 and does not exercise its right of appeal.

Natasha Longson, ICO Investigations Group Manager said:

“The rules about electronic marketing are simple and clear. Consent must be freely given, and it must not be a condition of receiving a service.

“Nuisance texts, calls and emails are an unwanted and annoying intrusion into people’s lives, and we will continue to take action against those that do not comply with the law.”