Viewpoint: The fearful age of information creep

The Charity Commission's annual return form asks for more details than it will ever need.

My pen was hovering over the box. Should I fill in the trustees' email details, mobile phone numbers, dates of birth and so on, as requested on the annual return from the Charity Commission? Yes, it's that time of year again.

What about those worrying little p's dotted all over the form, indicating that the details submitted will then be made public? There's not one next to home phone numbers, granted, but I have always worked on the principle of giving mobile phone numbers only to those who have a good reason to need them. What possible use are they to the Charity Commissioners?

Clearly the commissioners have every right to know the identity of a charity's trustees. These are the people ultimately responsible for the whole organisation, its work and the public's donations. And if you are filling in the names, naturally there has to be a way of contacting them. So an address is, I suppose, logical.

Most trustees have an impersonal workplace add- ress, but what about those, like me, who are freelance and have only a home address to give? It feels somehow as if I'm exposing myself. It's not, I should make clear, that I am obsessively private. But I do worry about the extent of the personal information we casually volunteer when asked, for what, on reflection, do not seem like good reasons.

Why, for example, does the commission need to know our ages? Fine. Check that we are over 16, but otherwise? It's more than vanity as middle youth beckons. In my day job as a journalist, I have lost track of the number of interviewees who refuse point blank to give their ages. So are charities in danger of put ting off potential trustees in order to include a question that I can only think is there to allow the commission to draw up pointless graphs?

I recently had a call from a young man who had been turned down for a Longford scholarship. I tried to give him what HR departments call 'positive feedback' but he wanted to appeal. There was no appeal process, I explained. He retaliated by vowing to go directly to the trustees. I'm not going to give him their addresses, but could he get them from the commission? Or write via them?

Probably not, but it's not clear from the form. So before I fill in the boxes, I think I need more explanation about what feels like information creep.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, chairman of Aspire and director of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust.

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