British Red Cross signs opt-in-only pledge with Information Commissioner

The charity has signed an agreement drawn up by the ICO that limits fundraising calls to potential donors who have, within the previous two years, opted in to receiving them

ICO announces the undertaking
ICO announces the undertaking

The British Red Cross has signed an agreement with the Information Commissioner’s Office pledging to call potential donors only if they have specifically opted in to receiving calls in the previous two years, after the ICO carried out an investigation.

The ICO began investigating the Red Cross in July as part of an inquiry into whether four large charities – the other three are Macmillan Cancer Support, the NSPCC and Oxfam – and the fundraising agency GoGen had exploited loopholes in the Telephone Preference Service after allegations were made in the Daily Mail newspaper.

A statement from the ICO today said that although the regulator concluded that the Red Cross had complied with the law, it said it offered the charity advice on further good practice that could be implemented.

A spokeswoman for the ICO said the agreement committed the charity to following the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations in all of its fundraising calls and to implementing an opt-in-only system for its telephone marketing within 12 months.

The agreement, signed by Mike Adamson, chief executive of the BRC, and Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO on 3 February, says the charity must "ensure that any consented data will be subject to a 24-month expiration period, in line with its business needs".

It says that after this period has passed, the charity must "only make live telephone marketing calls upon gathering fresh, specific and informed consent from the individual".

The move comes after the review of fundraising regulation by Sir Stuart Etherington recommended that all fundraising organisations should make a public commitment to adopt opt-in systems in their communications. European rules that will require "unambiguous consent" from supporters and the public about how they are contacted are also expected to come into force in 2018.

The ICO has previously said that it could not say precisely how long "express consent" from existing supporters for charities to contact them by phone would be valid. But a National Council for Voluntary Organisations working group, chaired by Adamson, is developing a series of recommendations about how charities should prepare for the new EU rules.

Andy Curry, group enforcement manager at the ICO, said in a statement that the British Red Cross was a good example of an organisation that wanted to "get it right".

"The charity has seen the benefits of not only following the law, but also of following best practice, and we’re pleased that we’ve been able to work with it on this," he said.

Adamson said: "We are pleased that the Information Commissioner’s Office review has found that British Red Cross’s fundraising practices are compliant with the law and current guidance. Signing this undertaking reiterates our commitment to best practice and putting supporters at the heart of our fundraising."

As part of the investigation, which has now finished, the BRC provided the ICO with details of its relationship with the call centres it uses, its direct marketing policies and its procedures and staff training.

The ICO spokeswoman said the regulator’s investigation of Macmillan Cancer Support, the NSPCC, Oxfam and GoGen was still ongoing.

The Fundraising Standards Board’s investigations into all five organisations – including the Red Cross – continue, but are in their final stages.

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