Charities call for 'opt-in' system to be put on hold

A group of leading charities has told MPs that UK policy should not be decided before EU legislation, expected in 2018, is in place

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

A group of major charities led by the British Heart Foundation has called for plans for an opt-in fundraising regime to be put on hold until revised European Union data-protection rules come into effect.

They have also called for an impact analysis to be carried out to determine the effect the proposed Fundraising Preference Service will have on the sector.

The call comes in written evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee from the BHF, Guide Dogs, the Alzheimer's SocietyBarnardo’s, the Royal British Legion and Action for Children. The committee is carrying out an inquiry into charity fundraising,

Their evidence says said that once the framework for the EU rules is in place a working group should be set up to develop a UK opt-in system that aligns with EU law. The EU proposals, which are not expected to come into effect until 2018, would require people to give their consent before an organisation could contact them for marketing purposes. 

Sir Stuart Etherington’s review of fundraising self-regulation recommended in September that all fundraising organisations should make a public commitment at once to adopt an opt-in system for their communications.The lifeboats charity the RNLI has been the only major charity to announce that it has done this.

The evidence from the group of charities, published last week on the PACAC website, says: "We recognise the ambition to move towards adopting a system of "opt in" for all communications with donors.

"The imminent EU data-protection regulation is the appropriate vehicle for beginning the design of that process and we suggest building on these foundations."

It also urges the government to provide charities with sufficient time, once the EU rules are released, to respond and adapt their operations to ensure they comply with them.

On the subject of the FPS, the written evidence says the government should undertake a "thorough impact analysis" to quantify what the scheme would mean for charitable giving across the UK. It says the FPS should not have a negative impact upon the good causes the sector supports or lead to reduced help for beneficiaries.

More than three-quarters of fundraisers are opposed to the FRS, according to a recent survey by the think tank Rogare.

A spokeswoman for the BHF confirmed that the letter to the committee, signed by its chief executive Simon Gillespie, was initially drafted by its former interim policy manager Tom Papworth, and that the other charities were asked to add their signatures to it. "It is important that the implications of the proposals are properly considered," she said.

A spokeswoman for Guide Dogs said: "We are concerned about the potential unintended consequences of some of the proposals that are currently being discussed and we do think the potential impact on beneficiaries and wider society needs to be properly understood."

The PACAC website also published evidence last week from the Russell Group, the umbrella body for 24 leading universities, which said the requirement to contact only people who had given specific permission had caused many universities to "stop or significantly restrict their telephone fundraising activities".

The Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed in July that it considered it a breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations for fundraising organisations to call donors who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service unless they had specifically consented to such calls. This prompted the Institute of Fundraising to announce in September that it was changing its Code of Fundraising Practice to oblige fundraisers to conform with this rule.

Wendy Piatt, director general and chief executive of the Russell Group, said in the evidence to the committee that Etherington’s review had had "unintended knock-on consequences" for universities, which included a serious effect on their ability to fundraise from alumni and other individuals with whom they had long-standing relationships.

"If other recommendations in the review are taken forward, this will also restrict universities’ ability to make contact with alumni by email, mail or other routes, impacting all of our fundraising activities," she said.

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