Pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU and the Arron Banks firm Eldon Insurance have been fined £60,000 each for illegal marketing messages.
The fines were issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) which also announced it will audit both firms’ handling of personal data.
Leave.EU was the unofficial Leave campaign which lost its bid to Vote Leave for official recognition by the Electoral Commission during the 2016 EU referendum.
In June 2018 Mr Banks, a major donor to Leave.EU, told a committee of MPs that nobody worked for both Leave.EU and Eldon Insurance – a statement he later changed to say that staff transferred on short-term contracts.
After investigating the relationship between the two organisations, the ICO found they were closely linked.
“Systems for segregating the personal data of insurance customers’ from that of political subscribers’ were ineffective,” the data watchdog stated.
This resulted in Leave.EU using Eldon Insurance customers’ details to illegally send almost 300,000 political marketing messages, for which Leave.EU has been fined £15,000.
According to the ICO, Eldon Insurance also carried out two illegal direct marketing campaigns.
These campaigns involved the sending of over one million emails to Leave.EU subscribers without sufficient consent, and Leave.EU was fined £45,000 and Eldon £60,000 for this data law breach.
Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said: “It is deeply concerning that sensitive personal data gathered for political purposes was later used for insurance purposes; and vice versa. It should never have happened.
“We have been told both organisations have made improvements and learned from these events. But the ICO will now audit the organisations to determine how they are using customers’ personal information.”
As part of the audit, the ICO will be able to access Leave.EU and Eldon’s joint offices, staff, and documentation – and the watchdog states: “It is a criminal offence to obstruct an ICO audit or destroy information covered by it.”
Arron Banks, who is famous for donating large sums to anti-EU political causes, has been the subject of much scrutiny regarding the source of his wealth.
He is currently facing a criminal investigation into the origin of £8m of donations he made to the Leave.EU campaign he co-founded in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Mr Banks has strongly refuted any suggestion of unlawful activity, especially claims that the source of the funds was Russian.