Charities can make fundraising calls to supporters who have not given them their telephone numbers, even if those supporters are registered with the Telephone Preference Service, the Information Commissioner's Office has revealed.
David Evans, a senior data protection practice manager at the ICO, told a gathering of charity fundraisers at a summit on telephone fundraising last night that the organisation would not investigate cases in which charities obtained supporters' numbers by using telematching services unless it received complaints.
Telematching services match people's names and addresses against electronic databases of phone numbers, including those of people registered with the TPS. Registration with the TPS indicates a person's unwillingness to be called by companies or charities.
Charity staff at the summit said their organisations did not record whether supporters' phone numbers had been given to them voluntarily or found through telematching services..
Evans said that, in theory, charities should record how the numbers on their databases had been collected. But he said in response to a question that it was legitimate for charities to treat all numbers as though they had been given to them voluntarily. This meant that they could call some supporters even if they were registered on the TPS.
"We don't want to be totally clear on paper about this because that would mean you couldn't call many people," he said.
"If the calls are made sensitively and don't generate complaints, it is unlikely that we would object."
Evans also said charities could make administrative phone calls to supporters who had asked not to be contacted to ask them whether they would like to opt back in to receiving marketing calls.
This practice came under scrutiny after Karl Holweger, chief executive of telephone fundraising agency Pell & Bales, said it could be a useful fundraising technique. The agency later decided to stop using the practice.
Evans said the ICO, which enforces the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, would be "concerned" if such calls were being used primarily to raise funds. But it was unlikely the ICO would start requiring proof that the primary purpose of such calls was administrative.
Stephen Pidgeon, head of the Institute of Fundraising's standards committee, said its code of practice on telephone fundraising needed to be updated.