The Financial Conduct Authority has fined an insurance company which actively picked out lower income, non-professional consumers as its sales targets.
It also upsold them into more expensive policies and made it difficult for them to cancel.
Stonebridge International Insurance has been issued a fine of £8,373,600 by the FCA in relation to its sales of accident insurance products. Up to 486,444 consumers may be affected.
The FCA said that between April 2011 and December 2012, Stonebridge targeted "low and middle income customers without college degrees or professional qualifications", with its personal accident, accidental death and accidental cash plan insurance products.
Outsourcing companies sold policies over the telephone, with those responsible for sales encouraging people to buy more expensive products, whilst companies responsible for post-sale support actively discouraged customers from cancelling their policies.
Tracey McDermott, FCA director of enforcement and financial crime said: “Customers are entitled to expect firms to provide them with fair and balanced information to enable them to make the right choices about the product that is right for them.
"Stonebridge failed to do this and, when customers tried to cancel, put up barriers to prevent them from doing so. Firms must take responsibility for their outsourcing arrangements and ensure that they treat customers fairly".
The products were sold over the phone to retail customers from lists of potential customers provided by Stonebridge’s business partners, including catalogue sales firms, online retailers, banks and credit card companies. In return, Stonebridge paid the firms a percentage of the premiums.
The FCA found that the telesales scripts that Stonebridge designed for its outsourcing companies did not provide clear, fair and balanced information.
It also found that Stonebridge’s poor systems and controls, and inadequate oversight of its outsourcing companies breached the FCA’s requirements that firms treat customers fairly and have appropriate systems and controls in place.
Stonebridge is carrying out an independent review of its past sales in the UK and EU and is contacting affected customers to determine whether they should be compensated as a result of its poor sales practices.