In the run up to the Election on May 6, 2010 the Information Commissioner (the ICO) served an enforcement notice on the Labour Party after it breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (the Privacy Regulations). The enforcement action resulted from the party having made unsolicited automated marketing calls without consent to almost half a million individuals. The enforcement notice requires Labour to ensure no further automated direct marketing calls are made without consent. Failure to comply with the enforcement notice is a criminal offence and could lead to prosecution.

In July 2007 the ICO received a complaint from a member of the public that he had received an automated marketing telephone call from the Labour Party despite never consenting to receive such calls. The call allegedly consisted of a recorded message from the actress Liz Dawn. After reviewing the transcript, the ICO advised the Labour party that it would constitute direct marketing; Labour subsequently agreed to stop making any calls using the Liz Dawn script or anything similar. However, in June 2009 the ICO received further complaints. The Scottish National Party and a member of the public reported that unsolicited automated calls, consisting of a recorded message from Liz Dawn, had been made encouraging recipients to vote in the local and European elections. The Labour Party confirmed that the calls were made to approximately 495,000 recipients, in what were believed to be Labour supporting areas, and that the majority of numbers were obtained using commercially purchased lists.

The ICO cannot be accused of any political bias. In 2005 the ICO served enforcement notices against the Conservative Party and the Scottish National Party, and in 2008 the ICO served an enforcement notice against the Liberal Democrats.

An individual may have registered with the Mail Preference Service (MPS) to say that they do not want to receive direct marketing material by post. It is good practice to check databases against the MPS and take account of the individual’s preference, although this is not a legal requirement. If you are carrying out telephone marketing (including sending SMS), you need to check your database regularly with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) to ensure that the people (businesses and individuals) you are calling are not registered. This is a legal requirement under the Privacy Regulations.

Here is a handy guide to compliance with the Privacy Regulations.

Communication method

In summary you may use this method for direct marketing …

Post addressed to particular individuals

…unless the individual has asked you not to write to them or not to send them marketing material by post.

Email/text and other messages to mobile phones/voicemail

…where the individual has consented to contact of that sort from you for those purposes.


…where the individual has consented to contact of that sort from you for those purposes.

Phone calls

…unless you have grounds for believing the individual would not want you to contact them such as Telephone Preference Service (TPS) registration.

Automated phone calls

…where the individual has consented to contact of that sort from you for those purposes.

AND in every case

…you must normally identify yourself in the communication and provide contact details to allow individuals to contact you and easily opt out of unwanted direct marketing.

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