RSPCA and BHF fined for illegal data-sharing

PhoneThe Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) for misusing their donors’ data.

The RSPCA and BHF were fined £25,000 and £18,000 respectively for Data Protection Act violations that included sharing donor data with third parties without consent and, in the RSPCA’s case, wealth-screening its entire supporter base.

The RSPCA had repeatedly wealth-screened all seven million of its supporters without consent. In general terms wealth-screening involves using the financial information a non-profit organisation can find on a donor to determine their giving capacity. The RSPCA had also shared one million of its supporters’ details with data and tele-marketing firms and shared donor details via the Reciprocate scheme, which facilitates data-sharing with similar charities, even though the donors had opted out of such sharing.

The BHF had shared the personal data of its donors with wealth management companies, a tele-matching firm and other charities via the Reciprocate scheme, although they were not necessarily similar organisations. Tele-matching involves matching people's names and addresses against databases of phone numbers. This may include people registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), who have indicated they do not wish to be called by businesses or charities.

The Charity Commission has opened compliance cases to investigate the trustee activities of both the RSPCA and the BHF.

The Commission’s Director of Policy & Communications, Sarah Atkinson, said: “The fact that charities have been found in contravention of data protection requirements in this way is very serious and highly regrettable… The wider lessons for charities about their responsibility to protect donors’ personal data must be shared and acted on. The Commission is aware that the ICO is investigating a number of other charities which may have similarly contravened the Data Protection Act, and may issue further monetary penalties.”

In early 2017, the Commission, the ICO and the Fundraising Regulator will be hosting a joint educational event for charities on data-protection compliance.

Expert legal advice for charities in Sussex and beyond

We would advise charities to consider enrolling in the forthcoming compliance event. In the meantime, for expert compliance advice in relation to any charity campaign or other activity please contact one of our specialist solicitors:

  • Mark Williams, Corporate Partner,
  • Gemma Ritchie, Associate Solicitor,    

Our lawyers act for a wide range of charity clients, from small local charitable trusts to national organisations operating via corporate vehicles. To find out more about our services visit our charities page.

Posted: 15 December 2016

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