Academic asks 'do we have to follow ICO guidance on direct marketing?'

Stephen Lee
Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee, a professor of voluntary sector management at Cass Business School, has questioned why charities should have to comply with guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office on direct marketing, saying such guidance has "no empirical or legal basis".

Speaking at a London conference on protecting and managing data in the voluntary sector yesterday, Lee, who is also an honorary fellow of the Institute of Fundraising, said the ICO had made "outrageous" claims in its updated direct marketing guidance, released in March, which went above and beyond the requirements of the law.

Lee said he took issue with section 35 of the guidance, which says that any advertising and marketing that sought to include material promoting the aims of a not-for-profit organisation would be considered as direct marketing and would need to adhere to the Data Protection Act.

Lee said he believed that only fundraising activity should be regarded as direct marketing for the purposes of the legislation, not "anybody anywhere promoting the aims and ideals of the organisation".

Referring to the clause in the guidance, he said: "Why and how and in what way should we be compelled to comply with that proposition?

"Who says that’s right? Just the ICO. Who did it consult? No one."

He said the ICO should be properly challenged when it made outrageous statements "with no empirical or legal basis", adding: "This is guidance; that’s all it is."

Lee said communication between the sector’s umbrella bodies and the ICO needed to improve because it had been "nothing less than appalling".

He said: "I hope we will get a much stronger, more mature cooperation between these bodies as we go forward with the implementation of the Fundraising Preference Service," he said.

Lee was one of several sector professionals who took part in a working group formulating proposals about how the FPS should work.

His comments came just days after he called on Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, to "corral some of the excesses" of the ICO, which he said was doing great damage to the sector by going beyond the law in its regulation of charities.

Wilson responded by saying a memorandum of understanding should be signed by the ICO and the regulator to set the relationship on a firm footing.

He said a new relationship with the ICO was also expected to be forged given the commencement of a new Information Commissioner this month.

"That’s an opportunity to make sure some of the issues that have come up in the past can be looked at and smoothed out in future," said Wilson.

Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, said his organisation’s independence put it in a strong position to be able to make representations to the ICO if it felt that the sector’s work was being unfairly hampered.

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