Information Commissioner unable to give time limit for 'express consent' for telephone fundraising

The ICO says the limit will vary according to context rather than being fixed at the expected 12 months

Telephone fundraising
Telephone fundraising

The Information Commissioner’s Office has said it is not able to say precisely how long "express consent" from existing supporters for charities to contact them by phone will be valid.

The ICO was expected by some fundraisers to announce that the "express consent" that charities have been told they need to obtain in order to call people registered with the Telephone Preference Service would be valid for 12 months.

The Institute of Fundraising announced last month that it was changing its Code of Fundraising Practice to forbid fundraisers from calling TPS-registered supporters unless they had been specifically notified that the person was happy to receive calls. The review of fundraising self-regulation by Sir Stuart Etherington also recommended that all fundraising organisations should make a public commitment to adopt a system of "opt-in" in their communications.

A fundraising director of a well-known medium-sized charity, who did not wish to be named, told Third Sector recently: "Charities will definitely be affected by the explicit opt-in for phone fundraising, and the big question will be whether that applies to historic donors or just those recruited in the future, and how long consent will be valid. I think the Information Commissioner is going to recommend 12 months."

Asked if this was the case, a spokeswoman for the ICO said: "There is no fixed time limit after which consent automatically expires. However, consent will not remain valid forever. How long consent remains valid will depend on the context – the question is whether it is still reasonable to treat it as an ongoing indication of the person’s current wishes."

She said: "How long an organisation can continue to rely on consent will depend on the circumstances and the person’s expectations, which can be affected by the context in which consent was originally given and the nature of the relationship."

The spokeswoman said that if consent was originally given to charities in the context of a specific promotional campaign which was only anticipated to last a short period, this might not be enough to indicate ongoing consent for other unrelated marketing messages later in the year once that campaign had ended.

The ICO’s guidance on direct marketing states: "As a general rule of thumb, if an organisation is making contact by phone, text or email for the first time, we would advise it not to rely on any indirect consent given more than six months ago – even if the consent did clearly cover that organisation." But the spokeswoman said she did not know how long "express consent" would be valid for and said she could not specify a situation in which 12 months would be the appropriate duration.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, was asked how long a valid consent should last for at last week’s evidence session of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee for its inquiry into charity fundraising. "It absolutely depends on what the service is and what the offer was," Graham responded. "You cannot say hard and fast."

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