Choose your country

Or view all businesses for sale


Sell Your Business

Direct Marketing Via Email: Regulations

Direct Marketing Via Email: Regulations

UK law relating to the sending of unsolicited direct marketing material by electronic means care based on the EC Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications.

A major aim of the Directive was to cut down on the amount of 'spam' that e-mail users receive from companies with whom they have never had dealings. The Department of Trade and Industry defines spam as 'unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail sent without the consent of the addressee and without any attempt at targeting recipients who are likely to be interested in its contents'.

Whilst the intention behind the law is clear, the regulations only apply to UK businesses and will do nothing to prevent spam originating in countries where the relevant laws are less strict or, indeed, non-existent. For genuine UK businesses seeking to increase sales of their products to a targeted market, the effect will be more red tape in order to ensure they do not fall foul of the regulations.

The regulations apply to unsolicited commercial e-mails and text messages (SMS) sent to individual subscribers, rather than to company addresses, so much business-to-business e-marketing is not affected. However, under the regulations the term 'individual subscriber' includes sole traders, non-limited liability partnerships and their employees.

All direct marketing e-mails, regardless of whom they are sent to, must include clear sender and contact details. In addition:

  • Businesses must gain prior consent in that an individual must have actively opted in before they are sent unsolicited marketing e-mail
  • If your website uses cookies, or other tracking devices, to recognise previous visitors or to capture information about a user's preferences, you must tell them this and inform them as to how any collected information will be used. Consumers must be given the right to refuse cookies
  • Individuals are given greater rights to decide whether they wish to be listed in subscriber directories. Directory providers will have to give them full information and a reinforced chance to be ex-directory

If the recipient of the e-mail was a customer prior to 11 December 2003, you may continue to market to them providing:

  • Their e-mail or SMS details were obtained through the sale, or negotiations for the sale, of a product or service
  • The product or service you are marketing is a similar one
  • The individual had the opportunity to opt out of receiving direct marketing material at the time they gave their contact details and is given the chance to unsubscribe or opt out on each new message that is sent
  • The identity of the sender is not concealed

However, where a customer has previously registered an interest in a company's products or services, but has neither bought anything nor entered into negotiations to purchase which then fell through, then that individual's consent must be sought before you can contact them again for direct marketing purposes.

The Office of the Information Commissioner is responsible for enforcing the regulations by issuing enforcement orders to those who do not comply. Breach of an enforcement order is a criminal offence liable to a fine of up to £5,000 in a Magistrate's Court or an unlimited fine if the trial is before a jury. Any individual who has suffered damages as a result of a breach of the regulations has the right to sue the person responsible for compensation.

"If you market in this way it is important that your marketing database is accurate. We advise you to maintain separate lists for personal and business e-mail addresses where appropriate. Individual recipients should be given the opportunity to be removed from your database each time you send them mail and opt in consent should be obtained for all new customers. Remember too that existing data protection laws already regulate the processing of an individual's personal data. Contact us if you would like individual guidance on how to make sure your direct electronic marketing methods comply with all the relevant laws." - Brian McLelland

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. Neither nor Business Lawyers can accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

This article was originally published on 

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for a *free* account to receive the latest small business advice, features, videos and listings directly to your inbox!


Subscribe to our email updates

Sign up to receive the latest advice, most popular businesses, special offers and much more.

I'm interested in is committed to protecting your privacy. We will use the information you provide on this form to send you marketing emails . Find out more about what we do with your information in our Privacy Policy.
Marketing Emails: You will receive newsletters, advice and offers about buying and selling businesses and franchises. We will also send you information about events relating to buying, selling or running a business.

Are you a Business Owner?

Set up your Private Seller Account and create your listing today

Get Started Here

Are you a Business Broker?

Set up your BrokerWeb Account and list multiple businesses

Get Started Here