Charities fined for misuse of donor data

Eleven charities that breached the Data Protection Act have been fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Following an investigation, the ICO found that the personal data of many donors’ had been secretly screened by the charities in order to target them for further funds. By collating personal data from numerous other sources, certain charities were able to locate and target new or lapsed donors. Some also exchanged this data and thus created a collaborative pool of donor details available on a wider scale.

Acknowledging the risk of contributing to donor distress, the ICO exercised her discretion in reducing the fines to a significant degree.  This approach was also adopted in December 2016, when fines were issued to the British Heart Foundation and to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The most recent charities to be fined were:

  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare (£18,000)
  • Cancer Support UK (£16,000)
  • Cancer Research UK (£16,000)
  • The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (£15,000)
  • Macmillan Cancer Support (£14,000)
  • The Royal British Legion (£12,000)
  • The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (£12,000)
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (£11,000)
  • WWF-UK (£9,000)
  • Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home (£9,000)
  • Oxfam (£6,000)

Commenting on the actions of the charities was Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner. She stated: “Millions of people will have been affected by these charities’ contravention of the law. They will be upset to learn the way their personal information has been analysed and shared by charities they trusted with their details and their donations.

“No charity wants to alienate their donors. And we acknowledge the role charities play in the fabric of British society. But charities must follow the law.”

As part of a wider operation, the ICO investigated the charities following various reports in the media. These highlighted the increasing level of pressure which was put on supporters to donate.

Ms Denham went on to highlight the expectation for charities to follow the law in addition to maintaining the level of education and support.

“These fines draw a line under what has been a complex investigation into the way some charities have handled personal information. While we will continue to educate and support charities, we have been clear that what we now want, and expect, is for charities to follow the law.”

Alongside both the Fundraising Regulator and the Charity Commission, the ICO held a conference for charity trustees in February. With an aim to provide levels of clarity within the sector, the conference aimed to provide the attendees with both information and education. Detailed industry guidance on the rules regarding sharing and marketing is also available on the ICO website.



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