A mortgage broker has been fined £50,000 for illegally sending 174,342 nuisance text messages after failing to follow electronic marketing rules.
MortgageKey, which is a trading name of OSL Financial Consultancy Limited, was investigated after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) received dozens of complaints about the spam texts as part of its probe into companies seeking to take advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic with nuisance marketing.
The ICO also found Barnetby-based MortgageKey sent 1,219,870 marketing emails during the same time period which it believes broke its regulations – 755,780 of these were confirmed as received.
Mortgage Key told Mortgage Solutions it had now rectified the situation and its consent process.
‘No evidence of consent whatsoever’
Between March and June 2020, the ICO said it identified a number of complaints about OSL that had been sent to the 7726 spam text reporting service regarding nuisance messages about a drop in buy-to-let mortgage interest rates.
The ICO investigation found 54,205 nuisance texts were sent during the pandemic, with 120,137 sent from 18 June 2019 until the pandemic began.
The regulator established the firm relied on the previous consent it said it had obtained from customers, but this had been tied to providing a quote with no opt-out option given.
“Consenting to marketing is not necessary for the provision of a quote and consent should have been sought separately,” the ICO report noted.
It said OSL provided no “evidence to demonstrate valid consent whatsoever”.
An example of one complained about SMS was: “Hi XXX I hope you are well, Its XXX from MortgageKey, 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 01482 306666 opt 1 and we will be free to speak with you. Kind Regards XXX MortgageKey”
‘For the 78th time’
There is also evidence from complaints to the firm suggesting that customers asking to opt out were ignored and contacted repeatedly over a year.
One complainant originally submitted their details on 4 July 2019 and replied to an SMS on 1 June 2020.
They said: “For the 78th time, you have the wrong phone number for ‘james’. I have told mortgagkey to delete this number numerous times. If I get one more message from message [sic] from mortgagekey I will report you to information commissioner.”
The ICO noted three other complaints to messages sent in 2019 including one specific request to have their details removed.
MortgageKey also said it had contacted the ICO in late 2019 about the unsubscribe option not working on its marketing emails.
The ICO said this demonstrated at least some awareness at that time of the rules surrounding direct marketing.
However it added: “OSL could have used the event… as an opportunity to review its direct marketing practices more generally in order to ensure compliance with PECR, however OSL failed to do so.”
ICO investigations group manager Natasha Longson 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.”
Rebuild the business
MortgageKey director Oliver Laver told Mortgage Solutions: “We would like to firstly acknowledge the ICO for their work and their commitments and fully respect what they do in the market. Moving forward we will work with them to ensure we have a working relationship going forward.
“After Covid-19 hit sadly MortgageKey had to make circa 20 redundancies and the business was shut for two-three months. Upon our return, to rebuild the business we marketed our database.
“Due to a technical issue with regards to consent we relied sadly upon implied consent and not opt in boxes for marketing. We have now rectified this issue and look forward to working with the regulator moving forward.”
Owain Thomas is features and contributing editor of Mortgage Solutions and editor of Specialist Lending Solutions.
He also has experience in the protection, pensions, workplace benefits and HR areas.
Owain has won two Headline Money Awards and the Protection Review’s Journalist of the Year award.