Charities fined almost £140,000 for breaking donor privacy rules

Russell Hope, News Reporter

Some of Britain's best-known charities have been fined a total of £138,000 for breaking data protection rules to get more money from donors.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) found some charities "wealth screened" donors, targeted new or lapsed donors by piecing together information obtained from other sources and shared information with other charities to create a pool of donor data.

The privacy watchdog said that some charities "don't know if the information has been shared one or one hundred times," and revealed that some of the information collected by charities included donors' income, property values and friendship circles.

Cancer Support UK shared more than three million donor records and was fined £16,000, the same amount that Cancer Research UK was fined for wealth screening 3.5 million supporters and matching almost 680,000 telephone numbers to supporters between 2011 and 2016.

The ICO handed a £15,000 fine to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association after it ranked donors on their wealth, screened more than 1.7 million supporters, and matched nearly 250,000 telephone numbers to supporters.

The largest individual fine was the £18,000 penalty given to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which shared almost five million donor records with other charities as well as screening almost 470,000 people to rank donors based on their wealth, and matching telephone numbers and email addresses to supporters.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, WWF-UK, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Oxfam also received fines.

The last two were among those fined for "tele-matching", or using information they already had to search for more contact information about donors - even if the donors had not given their permission.

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 ... charities must follow the law."

The ICO limited the individual fines to between £6,000 and £18,000 because donors could be unhappy at more punitive fines.

But some charities criticised the penalties anyway, with the NSPCC calling its £12,000 fine "unjustified", while Cancer Support UK called its £16,000 fine "ill founded, excessive and disproportionate".

In December the RSPCA and British Heart Foundation were fined £25,000 and £18,000 respectively for secretly wealth screening millions of their donors.