Email Spam and the Law - UK and Europe

Posted on Jun 8, 2015

If you take part in email marketing it’s worth taking a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the law on spam. The law in the UK (the US will be covered in the next post) regarding spam emails is relatively straightforward and spending a few minutes making sure that you understand what you can and can’t do will keep you on the right side of the tracks and help you avoid fines of up to £5000!

gavel email spam 3d Illustrations on a white background

Before starting though it is worth noting that email spamming is bad marketing - bad as an wrong, bad as in ineffective and bad as in counter-productive. Not only is it annoying for the receivers of spam emails to get their inbox filled with junk mail, it can also be detrimental to the sender. The image of a company that sends spam emails can be ruined, potential customers can be scared away and loyal customers can become annoyed and leave.

Don’t worry though - it is easy to use good email marketing practice by simply following a few simple guidelines. These will keep you on the right side of the law and enable you to build a thriving email campaign which improves your brand image and increases your customer base...

What is Spam Email?

To put it simply spam emails are emails that are sent without consent - the person who receives the emails didn’t ask for them.

It may sound strange that people must ask to receive emails before you can send them and although true, there are many ways that people can opt in to receive emails. The simplest way that consent can be given is for the person to tick a box that asks: ’would you like to receive periodic emails from us’. However, this is not the only way...

Soft Opt-Ins

When people opt-in to receiving emails by taking an action other than specifically asking to receive emails it is known as a soft opt-in. There are a few well-tested and valid soft opt-ins that can be used with confidence:

  • The most common soft opt-in is when a customer has bought something from you they are considered to have opted in to receive emails. If someone enters negotiations or expresses an interest in buying something from you they are also considered to have opted in. It’s worth noting that this is not carte-blanche to email the customer about anything you like - your emails must only contain information about products and services that are similar to those which they purchased or expressed an interest.
  • Another case where it is considered that a person has opted in is if they have been given the option to refuse the right to use their contact details but they don’t. It’s worth noting that the right to refuse must not be hidden from them or be difficult to find - it should be prominent and easy to refuse.


When you send marketing emails there are several things that must be included in order to comply with the law:
  • You must include a valid email address to unsubscribe or opt-out of future emails.
  • You must make the identity of the sender clear
These are very easy to do and come as default when sending email to a list through Simplelists.

Businesses vs Individuals

A lot has been made of the fact that the law is different when marketing to businesses as opposed to individuals. It is not illegal to send unsolicited email to businesses, so in theory email could be sent without businesses opting-in. However, this is not recommended for a number of reasons:
  • When an person is emailed at their company address the email is considered to be to an individual NOT a business: e.g. is an email to an individual.
  • When the business is a sole trader or partnership (as opposed to a limited company or organisation) the email will be considered to be to an individual.
  • If the content of the email is not related to the business but has subject matter related to an individual it is considered to be an email to an individual.

UK Law - EU Directive

Because Simplelists servers are based in the UK we’ve based this information on UK law. It’s worth noting that this is the UKs implementation of an EU directive and therefore the law throughout Europe is similar, although it might vary slightly from country to country. In the next post we’ll look at spam law in the US - if you’re sending marketing emails from the US this will be important for you.

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