Vote Leave fined £40,000 for sending unlawful Brexit “spam texts”

By Robert Scammell

The UK’s data watchdog has fined Vote Leave £40,000 for sending unlawful campaign texts during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that the officially designated campaign group for leaving the European Union sent 196,154 text messages promoting the Leave campaign without their consent – a breach of electronic marketing law.

The majority of the texts contained a link to its website. Vote Leave said that it obtained the contact details through legitimate means, such as text responses to a promotional leaflet and a football competition, but was unable to provide any evidence of this.

It claimed that it deleted proof of consent, as well as the phone numbers used to send the unlawful messages.

Vote Leave also said it deleted the number of messages sent and received.

Vote Leave fined: The latest breach of Brexit trust

ICO Director of Investigations, Steve Eckersley, said:

“Spam texts are a real nuisance for millions of people and we will take action against organisations who disregard the law.

“Direct marketing is not just about selling products and services, it’s also about promoting an organisation’s aims and ideals.

“Political campaigns and parties, like any other organisations, have to comply with the law.”

The Vote Leave fine follows a fine levied against Leave.EU, the unofficial pro-Brexit campaign group, last month.

The Arron Banks funded group and his insurance company were fined a total of £120,000 for sending over a million unlawful emails during the Brexit referendum.

Both fines are part of a wider investigation by the ICO into the use of data in political campaigns.

Vote Leave has previously been fined £61,000 by the UK’s Electoral Commission for breaching campaign spending rules, after it surpassed legal spending caps by almost £500,000.

Read more: Democracy undermined: Extent of Brexit data misuse revealed by ICO report