The Information Commissioner’s Office has imposed a £45,000 fine on a London-based firm that made 39,722 unsolicited marketing calls between January and October 2019. The data protection watchdog says that it believes the firm “deliberately set out to contravene” the law and “employed deliberate and opaque tactics to obtain the data of individuals to whom they could engage in direct marketing regarding pension schemes, following the implementation of legislation specifically aimed at protecting individuals from these practices.”

The firm’s principal business is the tracing of lost pension plans, and it would call individuals with the aim of introducing them to an independent financial adviser.

The ICO says that staff working for the firm firstly sent invitations to connect with people via LinkedIn. Once these connections had been established, they illegally called the individuals in an attempt to promote the firm’s services.

Pension cold calling is essentially banned in the UK. Firms can only call to talk to people about their occupational or personal pensions if both of the following apply:

  • the caller is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), or is the trustee or manager of an occupational or personal pension scheme, and
  • the recipient of the call consents to receiving these calls, or has an existing relationship with the caller

The firm in question is not authorised by the FCA, indeed the issue first came to light when a third party, which was a regulated entity, alleged that this firm had been contacting individuals while passing itself off as the third party.

The ICO also says that the firm was unable to provide any evidence that the individuals whose data was harvested via LinkedIn consented in any way to receiving marketing calls relating to pensions.

The firm had no records to confirm it had carried out any staff training relating to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and the restrictions these impose on direct marketing activities.

The 39,722 figure is only the number of calls that were connected and where a conversation took place, and the ICO says the firm attempted to make some 289,679 illegal calls during the nine-month period.

The fine will be reduced to £36,000 if the firm pays by January 13 2021 and does not exercise its right of appeal.

Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations, said:

“Unwanted pensions calls can cause real distress and can result in people experiencing significant financial harm. The public have every right to expect companies to follow the law and should not feel harassed or pressured into making life-changing decisions on the basis of cold calls or messages received out of the blue.

“Companies shouldn’t call you to discuss your pension, unless you have given your consent, or you’ve previously dealt with the company. If you do receive an unwanted pensions call, it’s important to report it to the ICO. Every report helps us to take action and stop these nuisance calls.”

Scott Robert are compliance consultants delivering solutions to regulated businesses.