Halfords fined over 500,000 ‘Fix Your Bike’ voucher emails
Customer complaints were raised with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) relating to Halfords’ direct marketing email about the ‘Fix Your Bike’ government voucher scheme which was sent in July 2020.
The government scheme gave people in England a £50 voucher to use at registered repairers or mechanics to encourage people to cycle by getting unused bikes fit for the road.
Vouchers were released in batches to “manage capacity” as they were hugely popular at launch, but applicants were initially met with technical issues.
The ICO said Halfords’ 498,179 unsolicited marketing emails about the scheme encouraged people to book a free bike assessment and to redeem the voucher at their chosen Halfords store “which would generate income for the company”.
In defence, Halfords said the emails were sent in “legitimate interest”, but the ICO said it clearly advertised a service provided by the company so the “legitimate interest” argument couldn’t be used as an alternative to consent when sending electronic marketing messages.
As part of electronic marketing rules, there is a soft opt-in exemption which allows organisations to send electronic messages to customers whose details have been obtained during a sale or service, but it must offer a simple way for people to opt out.
However, the ICO ruled that Halfords could not rely on this exemption for customers who received the email, as they had already not opted in to receive emails from the firm.
‘Frustrating and downright annoying’
Head of investigations, Andy Curry, said: “It is against the law to send marketing emails or texts to people without their permission. Not only this, it is a violation of their privacy rights as well as being frustrating and downright annoying.
“Halfords are a household name and we expect companies like them to know and act better. This incident does not reflect well on the internal advice or processes and therefore a fine was warranted in this case. This also sends a message to similar organisations to review their electronic marketing operations, and that we will take necessary action if they break the law.”
A Halfords spokesperson, said: “We are very surprised at this decision. The email was sent as part of a collaboration with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Energy Saving Trust. Its principal purpose was to alert people to DfT’s Fix Your Bike voucher scheme and inform them on how to redeem the vouchers. This was an important part of the government’s strategy for dealing with the profound and urgent transport issues caused by the pandemic. We understand that only one individual complained. We believed at the time – and continue to believe – that the email complied with the rules. In any event, it is disappointing that the ICO has not taken into account the unique circumstances in which the email was sent.”