Exclusive: Debenhams should review its relationship with Arron Banks-owned Eldon Insurance, following fines over alleged data misuse by the company, campaigners say.
Eldon has had an affinity deal with high street retailer Debenhams since 2014, providing motor insurance for Debenhams customers through a panel of insurers including Southern Rock.
However, politicians and campaigners are calling for the retailer and other companies to review their links to Eldon. The company is facing a fine of £60,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office over alleged data misuse.
Eldon said it will dispute the ICO findings.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP and former shadow Deputy Prime minister, said Debenhams should be aware of further investigation into Eldon.
He said: “Given the very serious findings, record fines and on-going further investigations I would expect those with a connection to Eldon to examine their relationship very closely.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for the South West, who said firms associated with the broker faced potential reputational damage.
She added: “It would be wise for companies doing business with Eldon to review their relationship with the company, given the strong risk of reputational damage.
“Severing links might therefore be a good business decision. It would certainly be an important ethical one: demonstrating a commitment to the rule of law and upholding our democratic values.”
The fines were centred on allegations that customers of Eldon brand Goskippy allegedly received a Leave.EU political newsletter, while Leave.EU subscribers received Goskippy marketing.
This was without users’ consent, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office. Eldon is facing a fine of £60,000, while Leave.EU is also facing a fine of £60,000 and an additional fine of £15,000.
The ICO will be auditing Eldon’s data protection systems, in a move that could see it facing “significantly higher” fines, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said.
Campaigners have called for businesses to distance themselves from the Bristol-based broker. A petition was set up in April to urge Debenhams to reconsider its relationship with the company. Since Tuesday the petition, which had 190 signatures, has picked up an additional 281 signatories.
Following the ICO findings, petition-starter Richard Stanley believes that both insurers and Debenhams should be thinking carefully about their relationship with the firm. Stanley is a former customer-facing financial services worker and now foster carer.
He said: “I am glad it is being looked into [by the ICO]. I would hope that a brand such as Debenhams will take action now and be proactive. Even if their customers haven’t been targeted, it is a brand that it is very much associated with it now in my mind.”
A spokesperson for Debenhams declined to comment on the specific relationship. The spokesperson said: “All Debenhams partners adhere to a strict code of ethics. We constantly review the performance of our partners to ensure that they remain aligned.”
The retailer declined to provide a copy of its code of ethics. Post understands that this is an internal document between Debenhams and its suppliers.
Ageas, Aviva, Axa, Covéa, LV, Arch Capital subsidiaries Watford Insurance and Alwyn Insurance, Trans Re-owned Calpe Insurance and Banks-owned Southern Rock all provide capacity for Eldon through the Debenhams motor insurance contract, according to the terms of business.
A spokesperson for Ageas said the insurer was working to understand the position of its customers. A spokesperson said: “We take data protection very seriously and are currently working with Eldon to understand whether or not Ageas customers have been affected by their [alleged data sharing with Leave.EU] before we make any decision about next steps.”
A spokesperson for LV said: “We regularly review all of our broker partnerships and our policy is to monitor any judgements or rulings made in regards to our partners and then act appropriately.”
An Aviva spokesperson said it was “not able to comment on specific arrangements with brokers”.
Covéa declined to comment on the individual cases, but it is understood that its partners are expected to operate within the relevant legal and regulatory framework.
Calpe Insurance declined to comment. Arch and Axa did not respond to requests for comment.
The Association of British Insurers and the Financial Conduct Authority declined to comment. A spokesperson for the British Insurance Brokers’ Association said: “Biba is a membership association, not a regulator and so had no power to impose sanctions. Eldon Insurance Services is authorised by the FCA which makes it eligible to be a Biba member. Nothing in that respect has changed.”
When contacted, Eldon pointed to an earlier statement from Tuesday by spokesman Andy Wigmore.
He said: “We refute the unsubstantiated allegations, including the statements attributed to Arron Banks and Liz Bilney, which have been made by ex-employees whose activities have been reported to the police. We have been open and transparent with the ICO throughout their investigation into data analytics in political campaigns, the results of which were reported today.
“The ICO as part of its wide-ranging investigation considered the use of data by Eldon and Leave.EU (including electoral roll data) and the potential breaches identified by the ICO were confined to the sending of Leave.EU newsletters. The ICO made it clear that it did not consider that any of these incidents was done deliberately in breach of data protection legislation. Eldon and Leave.EU will be responding to the Notices of Intent to make appropriate representations to dispute the findings, as these are not final determinations by the ICO.“
Arron Banks appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show last Sunday, after he was placed under investigation by the National Crime Agency. The investigation relates to £8m of donations to unofficial pro-Brexit campaign groups. Questions have been raised as to whether Banks was the true source of the donations, though he has denied any wrongdoing. Banks has not been charged.
On Wednesday, Banks took to social media to reveal that he has been axed from an upcoming episode of BBC Question Time.
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