All aboard the regulatory train to Manchester
Tomorrow, on Tuesday 21st February in Manchester, a joint regulatory event will be held by the Information Commissioner’s Office, Fundraising Regulator, and Charity Commission.
Coming off the back of the fines to the RSPCA and BHF by the ICO for breaches of the Data Protection Act, this event is an important opportunity to for all, the regulators and the charity sector, to ensure legal compliance in the future.
The ICO has confirmed that their investigations into the charity sector has led to a further 11 charities being served ‘letters of intent’ (a precursor to issuing fines), but said that there are no other outstanding investigations into charities as part of that operation. So the focus now turns to what these fines mean and making sure that all charities are compliant moving forward. The event on the 21st February is a good opportunity to bring the regulators together with the sector and to answer the questions that will help ensure that charities are properly aware of their responsibilities.
Of course charities must comply with the law and every member of the public must be treated fairly in how their data is processed and used. While embedded in the law, this is also about ensuring a great experience for charity supporters and the public, respecting individual’s rights and giving them choice and control. Whenever I’ve spoken to charities and fundraisers across the UK the questions have always been ‘what do I need to do’?, not ‘how do I get round the law’?. I am confident that no charity has gone out there to deliberately flout the law or try and avoid their responsibilities. But I do know that there is confusion and uncertainty over what that means. This event is the time to put that right.
It’s welcome to see the three regulators working together on this. Consistency across the board from the regulatory bodies and a joined up approach is a good thing. Over the years that the IoF set the Code of Fundraising Practice, there probably was not enough close working with the ICO – that was regrettable and is an important lesson to learn for the new regulatory system for fundraising. It’s also important that when looking at the standards set in the Code around data protection and associated guidance that the views and expertise of fundraisers is sought and reflected. The Fundraising Regulator is currently consulting on proposed changes to the Code, and we look forward to engaging with them on any future consultation around potential changes in the area of data protection and direct marketing.
Today the ICO released a conference paper which addresses the issues that were at the heart of the recent fines: wealth screening, the use of publicly available information, and data/tele-appending. It gives a bit more information as to how in the ICO’s view these activities can take place fairly and lawfully. At the centre of this is making sure that individuals are appropriately informed about how their data will be used and given the right choices to agree or object. We’ll be going through this, and I’m sure there will be a number of further questions that we will look to seek clarity on both at the event and afterwards. We also are looking forward to seeing guidance from the Fundraising Regulator around data protection and consent that will be released on Tuesday as well. We will continue to work with them, and other partners, to ensure that our members have the most useful and practical guidance and resources that they need to get this right.
While these are questions and discussions are around lawful processing of data, they aren’t just a theoretical legal debate. The answers will be really important to future philanthropy and giving in the UK. As long as it is done according to the law it works for everyone; researching and understanding supporters better enables charities to tailor their approaches to them appropriately as well as identify potential new supporters. It means people get communications that are relevant to them and provides opportunities for people to support charities in different ways and, yes, potentially ask some people to give more who might be able to.
There probably will always be more questions than answers, and people wanting more detail than can be provided. But we hope that the information and guidance given on the 21st provides a useful and important step forward.
Details for the event, and how you can follow it via live stream are available on the ICO website.