Charities have been given assurances that while calling donors registered on the Telephone Preference Service is a technical breach of the Information Commissioner’s Office regulations, the ICO will not take action against a charity unless a sufficient number of call recipients complain.
David Evans, senior data protection practice manager at the ICO, told a telephone fundraising symposium in London last night that the ICO “would take into account the context in which you call”, even though calling people on the TPS is technically a breach of regulation.
“We’re not in the business of looking for trouble,” he said.
The “entirely context-dependent” approach to complaints, Evans said, would see the ICO take into account the manner in which calls are made, the opportunities call recipients are given to end the call or opt out of telephone contact and the charity’s own complaints handling procedures.
“The ICO is not in the business of stopping you calling people who won’t mind you calling them,” he said.
The gathering, at the Wellcome Trust in Euston, was told that the ICO would not necessarily act against any charity which had obtained a supporter’s phone number without their express permission, so long as the organisation respected their wishes not to be called again if they so wished.
Both Evans and TPS chair Colin Lloyd said complaints about charity violations of the TPS represented an exceptionally small proportion of the overall number of consumer complaints they handled.
Evans’ clarification of the ICO’s position was praised by Stephen Pidgeon, chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s Standards Committee, who led the panel discussion. Lloyd also said he was encouraged by the revelations: “The clarity we’ve had just now is extremely valuable going forward,” he said.
Pidgeon had opened the panel discussion saying that the Institute’s own code of practice on telephone fundraising is in need of revision and that there will “almost certainly” be a working party formed to look into tweaking the code.
Administration calls permissible
Prior to the symposium there had been a great deal of uncertainty over whether charities would be allowed to make administration calls to TPS-registered supporters. Evans said that so long as such calls did not become very frequent, and were genuine administration calls with a possible marketing or repeat-contact ask added on to the end of the conversation, the ICO would not have a problem.
He added that even calls to customers who had expressly opted out of phone or mail contact to confirm their position and offer them communication via email would be permissible.
TPS exemptions and opt-out
Both Colin Lloyd, who also chairs the FRSB, and Elaine Lee, of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), responded to calls for charities to be exempted or similar from the TPS by saying that the sector had never lobbied for such a move.
Lee said that the DMA “don’t see there has been demand for it” from within the sector and that if the charity sector was to be given an exemption, other sectors – such as debt collectors – would likely come banging on the DMA’s door for a similar reprieve.
Hugh McCaw, chief executive of telephone fundraising agency Relationship Marketing, and others in the audience disputed Lee and Lloyd’s claims that the sector had never opposed the status quo, arguing that charities have always seen their inclusion as unjust.