A pro forma letter that people can use to tell charities to stop contacting them has been downloaded more than 30,000 times since it was made available by the BBC’s The One Show last week.
A spokesman for The One Show said this morning that the letter, which asks charities to remove people’s details from their marketing lists and refrain from sending them marketing materials by letter, phone or email and from calling at their door to fundraise, had been downloaded 30,080 times since last Monday, when the journalist Lucy Siegle presented it on that evening’s programme.
Siegle said on the show that the letter could serve as a short-term buffer against "pesky letters from charities", because she believed it would be a while before charities came up with a long-term solution to the public’s discontent.
The letter was produced after The One Show covered the issues raised by death of the poppy seller Olive Cooke last month. The show included an interview with Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board.
People can also use the letter – which refers to the Data Protection Act 1998 – to ask charities to stop processing their personal data for direct marketing purposes. It warns that if charities do not make the requested changes within 28 days, a complaint will be made to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The letter is available to download on the programme’s website and people can apply for a copy by post. It had been downloaded 18,000 times as of last Thursday, The One Show presenter Alex Jones said last week.
The journalist Angela Rippon and Daphne Clark, described by The One Show as its resident "consumer crusader", devised the letter with help from the FRSB, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Direct Marketing Association.
Andy Curry, enforcement group manager at the ICO, said on the programme that the organisation had the power to fine or search the premises of charities that did not comply with requests to stop contacting people, and that charities could be prosecuted if they did not comply with the Data Protection Act.
Rippon said they received guidance on the letter from Citizens Advice and the Consumers’ Association, the charity behind the Which? publications and brand, but a further 10 household-name charities that were contacted declined to be involved. The charities were not named on the show.
Rippon said a copy of the letter was sent to the Cabinet Office, which said it approved of the contents.
McLean told Third Sector: "Our interim report on the Olive Cooke case was all about calling on the public to take ownership of their relationship with the charities they support. Anything that helps them to do this is a good thing."
He said that if a charity ignored the letter it could constitute a breach of the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice, which says that members "must be legal and ought to be open, honest and respectful".
McLean said it was disappointing that the charities approached by The One Show had declined to feed in to the letter-writing project.
"Every charity should seek to ensure that their supporters are happy with the way they are contacting them, so feeding into that process would probably have been helpful," he said.
Third Sector contacted four charities for their views on the letter – Cancer Research UK, Unicef, Shelter and the RSPCA. Only two were able to respond in time for Third Sector’s deadline on Tuesday morning.
A spokeswoman for the animal welfare charity said: "The RSPCA was not asked to feed in to the production of this letter. We already have a facility for anyone who would like to change the way we communicate with them. They can call our freephone supporter care line, email or write to us."
A spokeswoman for Unicef said the children's charity was not contacted by The One Show and had not received any communications from its supporters about the letter either.