All four charities accused by the Daily Mail of exploiting loopholes in Telephone Preference Service rules last summer had been contacted by the Information Commissioner in 2014 because it had concerns about their adherence to the rules, despite three of the charities – Oxfam, the British Red Cross and the NSPCC – having previously denied this.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has submitted written evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee for its ongoing inquiry into charity fundraising, which confirms the identities of the eight charities that received letters from the ICO in March 2014 because they had attracted complaints about their adherence to the TPS in 2013.
The submission, published on the committee’s website this week, says the ICO wrote to the three charities in 2014. It also wrote to Macmillan Cancer Support, which in October admitted to having received an automated letter from the ICO, Christian Aid, the British Heart Foundation, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and Barnardo’s.
Oxfam, the Red Cross, the NSPCC and Macmillan were all the subject of a Daily Mail investigation in July 2015 that the newspaper claimed had discovered they had breached TPS rules.
This prompted the ICO and the Fundraising Standards Board to launch investigations, which are yet to report, into whether GoGen, a now defunct agency working on their behalf, exploited loopholes in the rules.
Karen Brown, chair of Oxfam, told MPs on the PACAC in October that the charity had not received a letter the ICO said had been sent to eight major charities in March 2014 because they had attracted complaints about their adherence to TPS during 2013.
In response to a question from the Conservative MP David Jones, Brown denied receiving one of the letters. Jones had asked whether any of the charities interviewed that day – NSPCC, Oxfam and the RSPCA – were approached by the ICO last year about its concerns.
Brown said that she believed Oxfam became compliant with TPS rules after receiving a letter from the ICO in 2013, not in 2014. "We were not in receipt of the 2014 letter," she said at the time.
A spokeswoman for the Red Cross also told Third Sector in October that the charity did not believe it had received such a letter.
Mark Wood, chair of the NSPCC, who had also denied during the evidence session receiving a letter from the ICO, later said he had been mistaken and admitted in written evidence to the committee that the charity had received one of the letters.
Wood said in his written evidence that he had not recognised a description of the letter given in an earlier evidence session by Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner.
In his evidence to the PACAC, Graham said the eight charities were contacted because they had attracted "some, but not many, complaints to the TPS" during 2013.
He said a standard letter was sent to about 500 organisations as part of a general education and awareness-raising campaign intended to remind organisations of their responsibilities when carrying out direct marketing activities.
A spokesman for Oxfam said in a statement: "It was not immediately obvious to us that the letter on our file was the one to which the Information Commissioner was referring, in part because it had a different date. Once we realised our error we wrote to the committee to apologise and correct the record.
"We take our responsibilities under TPS extremely seriously and will continue to work constructively with the ICO to ensure we meet the standards expected of us."
A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said: "Although we have no record of having received the standard letter which was sent to 500 organisations by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2014, we have subsequently received a copy and we continue to work closely with the ICO on further strengthening fundraising practices."
In October, a spokeswoman for the charity had said that it did not believe it had been contacted by the ICO but was unable to confirm for certain whether this was the case, noting that the charity’s director of fundraising was overseas at that time.