ICO orders Penny Appeal to stop sending unsolicited texts

04 Mar 2024 News


The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has ordered Penny Appeal to stop sending unsolicited marketing text messages and reminded all charities of their legal obligations.

ICO reported that Penny Appeal sent more than 460,000 texts over a 10-day period in 2022 to 52,000 people who had not provided their consent, or who had clearly opted out.

The Muslim poverty relief charity sent the messages during Ramadan in April and May 2022, encouraging people on a daily basis to donate to its appeals, the ICO said.

This resulted in 354 complaints to the ICO and the Mobile UK’s Spam Reporting Service, including reports of opt out requests being ignored and “intrusive” and “unwanted” texts being received, often late at night.

ICO found through its investigation that the charity had created a database where requests to opt out were not recorded and messages were sent to anyone who had interacted with the charity in the past five years.

The data protection regulator has now issued an enforcement notice, ordering Penny Appeal to stop sending marketing communications without consent within 30 days.

Meanwhile, the Charity Commission issued an official warning to Penny Appeal in September last year, over a “breach of trust or duty or other misconduct and/or mismanagement”.

ICO: ‘No choice but to take enforcement action’

ICO had been engaging with Penny Appeal since 2020, after receiving complaints about a similar marketing campaign.

Following its initial intervention, the Yorkshire-based charity had committed to improving its compliance with direct marketing law.

However, the ICO received further complaints that Penny Appeal sent more spam texts over Ramadan during its investigation.

Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO, said: “Penny Appeal inundated people with text messages, with no regard for their consent or their right to opt out.

“This is unacceptable and we will act decisively to protect the public from unsolicited marketing texts.

“Despite providing advice and guidance to improve this charity’s compliance we were left with no choice but to take enforcement action in order to protect the public.”

The Fundraising Regulator said it supported the ICO’s decision, the findings of which it said echoed its own investigation published in March 2022.

Chief executive Gerald Oppenheim said: “While communicating with donors via text can be an effective tool for charities, it is vital that those charities abide by not only the law, but also the Code of Fundraising Practice – which stipulates that fundraising must be open, honest, legal, and respectful.”

Advice for charities

In its response, ICO shared its advice to help charities comply with the law:

  • Only email or text someone if they have specifically consented to receiving emails or texts – for example, by ticking an opt-in box.
  • People cannot provide consent as a condition of subscribing to a service – consent must be freely given and fully informed.
  • Offer an opt-out option (by reply or unsubscribe link) and act on this promptly.
  • Keep a clear “do not contact” list of anyone who opts out or unsubscribes from your communications, and screen against this list every time you send an email or text.

Penny Appeal has not yet responded to Civil Society’s request for comment.

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