Six foot blunder: UK funeral firm fined for fallacious phone calls

ICO slaps £80k penalty on biz that bothered opted-out peeps

Updated The UK's data protection watchdog today fined a funeral plan firm £80,000 for contacting tens of thousands of people who had registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

Companies are not allowed to contact anyone on the TPS list without their specific consent.

The Information Commissioner's Office said the "funeral plan industry has been on our radar for a while" and called on people to help elderly neighbours and rellies who may not be aware of their rights to avoid nuisance marketing calls.

Investigators found that Plan My Funeral Avalon Ltd made nearly 52,000 calls to people on the TPS register between 1 March and 20 November 2017. The company changed its name to Avalon Direct Limited shortly after the investigation. Avalon, based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, claimed it had bought the numbers from a third-party lead provider. The ICO ruled it failed to carry out due diligence or to check the numbers against the TPS register.

Andy Curry, enforcement group manager at the ICO, said: "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.

"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."

The ICO said that two of Avalon's directors had been involved in a previous unconnected ICO ruling resulting in a fine in January 2018.

The same two were directors of the lead generator company, which provided Avalon with its data in this case. As the ICO drily noted: "They would have been fully aware of their legal obligations."

The ICO said the pair were no longer connected to Avalon. It also noted that despite the number of calls made (51,917), it had received no complaints, instead finding out via a report in a Sunday paper, reinforcing its view that those targeted were vulnerable and unaware of their rights.

The ICO has hit two other funeral-peddling companies with fines in the last year – Costelloe and Kelly Ltd – which sent 260,000 spam texts – and Boost Finance. You can join the TPS, or help someone else join it, here. ®

Updated at 11:10 on Wednesday 17 April to add:

Avalon Funeral Plans got in touch to "acknowledge the outcome" of the ICO probe.

It told The Reg: "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. Following the event in question, Avalon took immediate action to protect customers by bringing the full operation and management of Plan My Funeral Avalon under direct control of Avalon.

"All recommendations in the ICO investigation have already been implemented."

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