The Information Commissioner’s Office has imposed a £50,000 fine on a Halifax-based firm which admitted to breaching the pensions cold calling ban on up to 96,817 occasions – it was not clear how many of the calls were eventually connected to the intended recipient, so the actual number of contraventions could be lower. The firm is now also subject to an enforcement notice, meaning that they could be prosecuted if they continue to make unsolicited calls.
The ICO says that the firm is guilty of “a serious contravention of regulation 21B of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.”
Since 2019, the law has prohibited firms from making unsolicited calls about pensions unless both of the following apply:
- The firm is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority or is the trustee or manager of an occupational or personal pension scheme
- The recipient of the call has given their explicit prior consent to receiving calls of this nature, or has an existing relationship with the caller such that they expect marketing calls to be made
The calls made by this firm invited people to sign up to pension reviews, with a view to being introduced to an adviser.
The firm attempted to point out to the ICO that recipients had consented to receiving marketing material when they visited certain websites. However, the data protection watchdog rejected this argument, saying:
“These sites required those signing up to them to agree to possible marketing from long lists of sectors and organisations. People appeared unable to select which, if any, they were happy to have their details passed on to or receive marketing material from. [name of firm] therefore did not have informed consent from the people it called.”
As a firm listed on the Financial Services Register as an Introducer Appointed Representative, the firm does not hold FCA authorisation in any case.
The ICO says that one of the ‘aggravating factors’ in this case is that the firm “failed to co-operate fully with the Commissioner’s investigation and have failed to provide some of the requested information.”
An example of a complaint made to the ICO about the firm was:
“Offering pension review as she is concerned about people losing out on high charges, underperformance and not getting annual pension statements. She claimed to have got my data from a government pension website and was trying to book me an appointment with a financial adviser. I am a financial adviser and know that these calls are now banned. for the uninitiated she was almost claiming she was working for a company on behalf of ICO. Information Commissioner’s Office government, which I know she is not. really cagey about giving me her address or where she had got my data from.”
The fine will be reduced to £40,000 if the firm pays by September 15 and does not exercise its right of appeal.
Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations, said:
”Cold calls are a common way of attempting to defraud people out of their pensions and we will take tough action where we find companies carrying out this kind of marketing. The law was updated specifically to protect these often vulnerable people and their retirement funds.
“Companies are responsible for knowing the law and following it. We have a range of powers and enforcement action which we can and will take on behalf of the public to put a stop to the activities of unscrupulous companies.”