After a two-year investigation, the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued fines to 11 charities for historic breaches of the Data Protection Act. The penalties amount to a total of £138,000 (around €162,000).


Triggered by media reports of repeated and significant pressure on the public to give, the ICO investigated charities’ use of data, finding that the public was not sufficiently aware as to how their personal information and contact data might be used. This included wealth screening donors and trading personal details with other charities.


Three charities incurred the largest fines; the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Cancer Support UK and Cancer Research UK. Large penalties were also issued to two other charities; the RSPCA and British Heart Foundation, in December 2016.


The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, discounted the fines to avoid “adding to any distress caused to donors by the charities’ actions”. She said: “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.”


Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said: “Good charity fundraising is grounded in making connections between people and the causes that they care about. Understanding donors to find out more about what they’re interested in, identifying new supporters, and personalising how charities approach people ensures a better experience of charity fundraising for everyone.


“It’s equally important in helping to ensure that charities aren’t inadvertently approaching people who prefer not to hear from them. Rather than causing upset, we believe this is the approach to fundraising that many donors would like and expect charities to take.”


Raising questions over the clarity of current guidance for what constitutes acceptable standards in terms of charities’ use of data, he added: “There are still some questions on exactly how charities can make sure that they comply with the rules and we are working with the ICO to address these so that charities can continue to raise vital funds safely and lawfully to help the most vulnerable in society.”