Fundraising Regulator clarifies its powers in relation to the preference service

Head of policy Gerald Oppenheim says it will report charities to the Information Commissioner's Office for non-compliance only if the person complaining asks it to do so, and adds that the regulator cannot fine charities

The Fundraising Regulator will report charities to the Information Commissioner’s Office for not complying with a Fundraising Preference Service request only if asked by the person who made the request, the regulator said today.

Gerald Oppenheim, head of policy at the regulator, told Third Sector today that charities would receive one reminder after the initial suppression request was made but, if they contacted the person again, the regulator’s complaints process would be triggered.

The FPS, which will allow members of the public to block email, post, text message or telephone contact from specific charities, is due to be launched to the public on Thursday on the first anniversary of the establishment of the regulator.

Oppenheim said he wanted to "knock on the head" a story in The Daily Telegraph newspaper this morning that the regulator would fine charities £25,000 if they continued to contact someone who had blocked them, reiterating that the regulator did not have the power to do so.

"Fines are not what we want out of this," he said. "We want charities to do the right thing: to comply with suppressions."

Charities will have 28 days to comply with suppression requests. If they are still contacting the person after this point, they will receive a final reminder.

Daisy Houghton, head of corporate services at the regulator, told Third Sector that if the person continued to receive contact from the charity through blocked channels, the complaint would be handled by the regulator’s existing complaints programme.

"We’ll go to the charity and ask why the suppression hasn’t happened and, depending on what they say, it will or will not be pursued," she said.

Oppenheim acknowledged that there "might be the odd extreme case" in which a charity continued to ignore a request and a reminder from the regulator.

In those cases, he said, the individual in question might ask the regulator to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner, which would have the power to fine the charity if it decided the case merited that.

But he added that, under data-protection law, the matter could be handed to the ICO only if the person concerned requested it.

People who want to block contact from a charity will be able to call the phone number due to be released on Thursday, or search for and select the charity from a list on the regulator’s website. They will be able to block contact by post, text message, email or phone, or all channels at once.

They will be required to give their names and postal addresses, as well as the details of any channels they wish to suppress. For example, someone would have to give their email address to block emails from the charity, said Houghton.

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There would then be an authentication process to prevent malicious software being used to make mass bogus requests, she said.

Anyone requesting a suppression on behalf of anyone else, such a family member or support client, would be required to leave their own details and a letter would be sent to the person registered.

The charity would then be alerted that a suppression request had been received and would have to log on to their FPS portal to see the details of the person blocking them.

Houghton said hundreds of the biggest charities that had paid the regulator’s levy had already been registered on the FPS system and given their own portals. Smaller charities would be added to the system as and when requests about them were received, she said.

After the launch on Thursday, there would be a second round of communications, Houghton said, designed to market the phone number to vulnerable people who might need it. This would be made through the charities they were already interacting with, she said.

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