The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has urged people to support their elderly relatives or neighbours if they are receiving nuisance marketing calls after a company selling funeral plans was fined £80,000.
The ICO said the company made unlawful marketing calls to people who had made it “explicitly clear” they didn’t wish to receive them.
The regulator launched an investigation after a national newspaper had reported allegations of illegal practices at a call centre in Cheshire, run by a company which at the time was called Plan My Funeral Avalon Ltd.
The investigation revealed the company – which shortly afterwards changed its name to Avalon Direct Limited – had made almost 52,000 calls to people who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) between 1 March and 20 November 2017.
It is against the law to call people registered with the TPS, unless a company has their specific consent. Avalon said it had purchased numbers from a third party lead provider, but had no specific consent to call people registered on the TPS. It failed to carry out proper due diligence or check the numbers against the TPS register.
The ICO’s investigation into Avalon found two of the company’s directors at the time of the contravention, had previously been involved in an unconnected ICO investigation and that the company involved in that case had been fined in January 2018 for carrying out unsolicited direct marketing.
Those same two people were also the directors of the lead generator company used by Avalon for the data collection in this current case, so they would have been fully aware of their legal obligations surrounding direct marketing, consent and the TPS register. The ICO understands the directors concerned are no longer associated with Avalon.
The £80,000 fine must be paid to the ICO by May 15 and if a full payment is received by the deadline, the penalty will be reduced by 20% to £64,000.
In addition to the fine, Avalon has also been served with an Enforcement Notice ordering it to improve its practices.
Andy Curry, enforcement group manager at the ICO, said: “The funeral plan industry has been on our radar for a while and it is fair to say the sector as a whole has had some issues in terms of complying with the law.
“That’s not always reflected in volumes of complaints, however, because the very nature of this particular sector means the people being targeted for funeral plan sales may be older, potentially more vulnerable and may not be as technologically savvy or as active online.”
He added: “We would ask people to speak to their older relatives, neighbours or friends and make sure they are registered with the TPS. If they have still been getting nuisance calls, they can help report these calls to us as this helps us build up intelligence on companies and sectors where we need to take action.”
Susan Stevenson, CEO of Avalon Funeral Plans said: “We fully acknowledge the outcome of the Information Commissioners Office recent investigation into the organisation Plan My Funeral Avalon.
“During the period being investigated in November 2017, Plan My Funeral and Avalon Funeral Plans had entered into a joint venture – Plan My Funeral Avalon. Plan My Funeral Avalon was, at that time, separately managed and operated by the Plan My Funeral management team.
“As soon as we became aware of the event in question, we took immediate action to protect our customers by bringing the full operation and management of Plan My Funeral Avalon under direct control of Avalon. We also took the decision to close down the Plan My Funeral call centre.
“Following an intensive internal review and training, we now operate a separate call centre under our own direct management at our head office.
“Avalon has been operating for over 25 years and is fully committed to protecting customers’ data privacy. We continually monitor and review all our sales and direct marketing activity to ensure it is fully compliant with GDPR and PECR regulations, and follows best practice and rules laid out by the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA). We would like to reassure customers that all recommendations in the ICO investigation have already been implemented and their peace of mind is our utmost priority.”