Red Cross and Age International rejected ICO request to renew consents every year

The British Red Cross and Age International rejected requests by the Information Commissioner’s Office to commit to renewing their opt-in consents every 12 months, saying that it would result in them calling supporters more frequently, according to correspondence seen by Third Sector.

Emails and letters obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that both charities resisted attempts by the ICO to get them to sign up to "voluntary undertakings" that would commit them to only calling potential donors if they specifically opted in to receiving calls in the previous 12 months.

Instead they agreed to renew their consents every 24 months.

The Red Cross also rejected the regulator's request to put the new practices into place within six months of the agreement being signed, saying that doing so would mean needing to call supporters within this period, which they might might find intrusive.

The Red Cross and Age International’s agreements were announced by the ICO in February and March, making them the only charities to have so far signed the agreements, although each of the 13 charities under investigation by the regulator was asked to sign similar agreements.

The ICO first proposed the undertakings to the two charities in October and both charities responded by saying the move would cause them to contact supporters more frequently than before.

In a letter to the ICO dated 15 January, a representative from the Red Cross says: "We appreciate the lCO's point of view in relation to a 12-month refresh on consent to call supporters, but this would simply not fit with the established contact cycle we have with our supporters."

The letter says that the charity was concerned that an unintended consequence of the move would be an "increase the frequency with which we call our supporters, leading to increased public concern about unwelcome intrusion caused by calls to charities".

Chris Roles, managing director at Age International, also says in a letter to the ICO dated 28 January that it would "definitely result in Age lnternational contacting some of its supporters more often than would otherwise be the case".

He adds: "ln such circumstances, Age lnternational's trustee board believes the charity's staff would need to inform the members of the public whom it was calling that it was doing so only because the lnformation Commissioner's Office had asked for this."

In an email dated 20 January, the ICO agrees to amend the Red Cross’s consent refreshment cycle to 24 months. A month later, it also agrees to amend Age International’s cycle to 18 months but after Roles complains that this makes its agreement more stringent than that of the Red Cross – which had by this time been publicised – it says it will grant Age International a 24-month consent window as well.

The correspondence also shows that both charities were told that the ICO would consider taking enforcement action against them if they did not sign up to the agreements.

It shows that although the ICO found Age International to be in the "green zone" and was satisfied from the information the charity provided that it was compliant with data protection regulations, it still asked the charity to sign an undertaking in an email dated 20 October, saying: "If no response is received the Information Commissioner will consider an alternative approach, which may result in formal regulatory action."

Age International says in response, in a letter dated 28 October, that it is "surprised and disappointed" at potentially being subject to regulatory action despite not being in breach of any regulations.

A spokeswoman for Age International said today: "We were pleased when the ICO found Age International to be fully compliant with its regulations.

"Following this the ICO asked the charity to go further and make some commitments on a voluntary basis, and after some discussion we agreed to a 24-month rolling cycle for seeking supporter consent in future."

A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said: "We are committed to having an open and honest relationship with our supporters. This includes being as clear as we possibly can about how and why we would wish to contact them."

A spokesman for the ICO said: "We worked with both charities to agree undertakings to ensure a sensible approach that would see them comply with the law, and with good practice, around marketing calls." 

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