08:37, April 05 439 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-05 08:37:03
UK charities fined by watchdog for wealth screening of donors

Eleven of Britain’s best-known charities have been fined for secretly subjecting millions of their donors to “wealth screening” operations to target them for additional fundraising.

The Royal British Legion, Oxfam, Cancer Research UK and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association are among those found by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to have breached data protection rules.

The fines imposed do not reflect the severity of the offences committed, according to the ICO, because depriving charities of large sums would only inflict further distress on donors. The fines range from £18,000 for International Fund for Animal Welfare to £6,000 for Oxfam

The charities were variously tracing and targeting new or lapsed donors by piecing together personal information obtained from other sources. Some were trading personal details with other charities, creating a large pool of donor data for sale.

For example, Cancer Research UK screened 3.5 million supporters to rank them by their wealth and traced nearly 700,000 telephone numbers.

The ICO investigation was launched following complaints about disproportionate pressure being put on donors by direct mailshots and phone calls to increase their donations to charities.

The full list of fines imposed on Wednesday is:

  • International Fund for Animal Welfare: £18,000
  • Cancer Support UK (formerly Cancer Recovery Foundation UK): £16,000
  • Cancer Research UK: £16,000
  • The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association: £15,000
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: £14,000
  • The Royal British Legion: £12,000
  • The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children:£12,000
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity: £11,000
  • WWF-UK: £9,000
  • Battersea Dogs & Cats Home: £9,000
  • Oxfam: £6,000

Last December, the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation were fined £25,000 and £18,000 respectively for similar activities.

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said: “Millions of people will have been affected by these charities’ contravention of the law. They will be upset to learn the way their personal information has been analysed and shared by charities they trusted with their details and their donations.

“No charity wants to alienate their donors. And we acknowledge the role charities play in the fabric of British society. But charities must follow the law.

“These fines draw a line under what has been a complex investigation into the way some charities have handled personal information. While we will continue to educate and support charities, we have been clear that what we now want, and expect, is for charities to follow the law.”