Fundraising Week: Charities will be able to use opt-out systems under new EU data rules, says John Mitchison

He says the regulations make an allowance for telephone and direct mail fundraising to be done on an opt-out basis

John Mitchison
John Mitchison

Charities will still be able to use opt-out-only systems for their mail and phone fundraising communications once new EU data protection rules come into force, according to the man who runs the Telephone Preference Service.

John Mitchison, who is head of preference services, compliance and legal at the Direct Marketing Association, was speaking at Third Sector’s Fundraising Week yesterday as part of on a panel debate called "How will the new Fundraising Preference Service change the way we work?"

"The new data-protection regulations still makes an allowance for telephone and direct mail to be done on an opt-out basis," he said. "The rules around consent will tighten up a little bit, but you don’t need to give an explicit opt-in for those two channels."

He told Third Sector after the debate he was bemused that so many charity professionals appeared to believe that opt-in-only systems would be compulsory from 2018 once the new EU General Data Protection Regulation, which was ratified earlier this month, came into force.

Mitchison said charities and other organisations would require opt-in consent only in order to call supporters who were registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

In the case of donors who were registered with the Mail Preference Service, they would need only to be able to demonstrate an existing relationship with such people to be able to continue mailing them, he said.

He said that if an opt-in-only system applied to all telephone marketing, this would obviate the need for the TPS service, but this was not the case and the TPS would continue.

He said the only channels that would require an opt-in-only system by law were the ones that already had one: SMS, email and recorded messages.

Mitchison said the DMA had confirmed the situation with its lawyers and with the Information Commissioner’s Office, and the association had issued guidance to this effect in December.

This says: "Under unambiguous consent, consent for postal and telephone marketing can still be given on an unsubscribe or opt-out basis."

Several charities – including the RNLI, Cancer Research UK, the British Red Cross and Age International – have said in recent months that they would move to opt-in-only systems for their telephone fundraising. The RNLI and CRUK’s opt-in-only policies also apply to direct mail.

Mitchison said during the session that several charities had had "lengthy, pressured conversations" with the ICO encouraging them to bring about opt-in-only systems, which the ICO still considers best practice.

Mitchison, who is a member of the Fundraising Preference Service working group, also confirmed that it would not be possible for a charity to contact a person who signed up to the FPS if that person later donated to their charity but did not explicitly opt in to receiving communications.

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