Are You Complying With the Anti-Spam Law?

Email is a great communications tool and has changed our world, but the ease of use and negligible cost can have its problems but spam emails and scam emails are a bane of modern life. 

 Marketing emails are a legitimate and useful business tool, when used correctly with consideration for the recipients.

The Anti-Spam Law

The basic principles are:-

  1.          This only covers business sending Marketing emails to individuals, not to businesses. (sole traders and partnerships count as individuals for this purpose)
  2.  The sender must not conceal their identity and must also provide a valid means of opt out from further emails.
  3. Organisations must not send marketing emails without the permission of the recipients. However, it is allowed if the recipient is already a customer and is given the option of opting out of further emails.

Anti-spam law is enforced by the Information Commissioner and breaches can lead to a fine of up to £5,000. There is also civil liability to anyone who suffers damage as a result of the breach. The rules are in the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations.

‘Solicited’ and ‘unsolicited’ are not defined, but solicited emails are understood to be emails that recipients specifically ask you to send them. A recipient can solicit an email from you via a third party such as a reseller or another company within the same group as yours. An unsolicited email is any other email.

A ‘marketing’ email is taken to mean any email promoting products  and services.

How to Comply With the Law

A.      You can send unsolicited, direct marketing email to a corporate subscriber, but be careful as many people have email addresses ending for example but are not companies.

B.      You can send direct marketing emails to individual subscribers if they have ‘previously notified the sender’ of their specific consent (i.e. they have ‘opted in’) to receiving such emails from you.

The subject needs to take a positive action to become subscribed – not just omit to tick a box.

It must be clear to the subject that they are opting-in – it cannot happen by default or as part of some other process.


The opt-in lasts for an unspecified period but cannot be permanent. You would need to repeat the opt-in periodically.

Third party advertising consent

If you are going to let third parties advertise in your emails, you should obtain the consent of any individual subscribers on your emailing list before you do so. Without it, your emails might be construed as unsolicited direct marketing emails from your advertisers to your subscribers.

Your opt-in request should specify whether subsequent emails will be from your organisation or include other organisations in the group or include third party organisations.

Bought-in lists

Guidance from the Information Commissioner allows that consent can be collected from an individual by a third party on your behalf, provided the third party makes it clear to the individual that it is proposing to pass his or her details to businesses offering the sort of products and services you offer

 ‘Soft’ opt-in

There are circumstances in which you can treat an individual subscriber as having consented to receiving emails from you, even though they haven’t specifically done so. This is called ‘soft’ opt-in. You can send direct marketing emails to individual subscribers under the soft opt-in rules if:

1.       Their email addresses were obtained by you in the course of selling to the subject or negotiations on a sale.

2.       The direct Marketing is only for similar or related items.

3.       The subject is given a clear choice to opt-out of future messages in every Marketing email


4.       The subject had a simple method available for refusing the use of their contact details for email marketing at the time the information was collected.

How to Stop Unwanted Marketing Emails


If you consider the sender to be a trustworthy organisation, then click on the unsubscribe option which is likely to be at the bottom of the email.  However, if the sender is not trustworthy then clicking on unsubscribe may start an unwanted action.

Email the sender

If there isn't an unsubscribe option or you don’t wish to use it, then you can always email the sender and request that they stop sending you Marketing messages.   Sometimes the return email address is blocked. This can lead to more spam messages sometimes.

Block the sender

If you are not able to stop the messages then block the sender.  This should be possible in your email system. Either you block the individual email address of the sender or you block the senders domain.


If in doubt, do not act in ways that you think may contravene the Anti-Spam law.