Charity Business, the outsourcing company that went into administration last week, has handed over financial data of 48 charity clients to Cambridge House, the London poverty and social change charity.
Cambridge House, also a client of Charity Business, was given the data when it went to the firm’s office in Swindon last Friday to recover its own payroll and accounting details and those of six other charities it works with.
"We were offered two hard drives and a compact disk," said Clare Gilhooly, chief executive of Cambridge House. "We knew they contained more information than just ours and the other six, so that was the dilemma.
"We knew it was all or nothing, and we took a split-second decision to take it because we thought it was potentially the last chance to protect our data. We also hoped it might be best for the others.
"They also gave us a mobile phone with a number that Charity Business gave out last week for people wanting information – it’s got lots of messages on it."
Cambridge House has emailed the other charities whose data appears to be on the disk and hard drives asking them if they would like to come to a meeting about recovering their data.
Gilhooly said she had taken advice from lawyers and approached two accountants with a view to appointing one to act as an independent custodian of the data and make sure each charity recovered its information.
"We have been advised, for data-protection reasons, not to look at any of the other data without the permission of the owners – and we are sticking firmly to that," said Gilhooly.
She said she did not want to name the other 48 charities. The National Youth Agency has said it was a client of Charity Business, and the firm’s website has a client list including the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.
Stephen Bubb, head of the chief executives body Acevo, said that Cambridge House had been remarkably adept at retrieving its data and had done others in the sector a favour. "They took prompt action and deserve top marks for that," he said.
"This case illustrates one of the dangers you will always run into with outsourcing. It’s likely to make people a lot more careful about sharing back-office functions as well."
Charity Business did not respond to calls.