ICO statement on DEPHER CIC as 'Britain's kindest plumber' slammed in bombshell BBC documentary

The Information Commissioner's Office has issued a statement after Burnley firm DEPHER CIC was accused of faking social media posts in a bombshell BBC documentary.

James Anderson had been dubbed "Britain's kindest plumber" for charitable work undertaken across Lancashire. Since 2017, DEPHER CIC (Disabled and Elderly, Plumbing and Heating Emergency Response) has installed boilers, given away free food and paid gas and electricity bills to those on the breadline.

It relies heavily on donations from members of the public and celebrities including actor Hugh Grant and singer Lily Allen are among those who have pledged their support in recent years. Notting Hill star Grant is believed to have donated a total of £75,000 to the firm.

But a BBC investigation released this morning (May 16) alleges DEPHER CIC 'faked or exaggerated stories of helping people', and that the social enterprise 'used vulnerable people's photos without consent'.

Although Anderson denied some allegations in the BBC documentary, he admitted 'mistakes had been made' and apologised for any upset caused.


Yesterday (May 15), The Fundraising Regulator confirmed to LancsLive that an investigation is underway into the community interest company. The CIC Regulator is also understood to have been in contact with DEPHER, but told LancsLive its policy is not "to confirm or deny the existence" of an investigation.

But aspokesperson added that the regulatory takes all complaints about CICs seriously.

The BBC investigation said analysis of his company accounts showed social media stories made Mr Anderson a viral hit on social media during the cost of living crisis and resulted in donations of at least £2m. However, the BBC says when they examined hundreds of the DEPHER CIC posts and interviewed the families behind them, it 'revealed a pattern of lies and allegations of exploitation'.

This included 'multiple examples' of DEPHER CIC reusing the same photos in 'misleading and false posts'. The BBC said Mr Anderson deleted their main social media account during their investigation.

Private information of individuals helped by DEPHER was also published in social media posts, which have since been removed from the platform X (formerly known as Twitter).

He told the BBC: "I know I’ve done it wrong. I apologise. But what can I do? I haven’t got a magic stick. I’m not Harry Potter."

LancsLive understands the Information Commissioner's Office has been in contact with DEPHER about these issues. The company is believed to be under review.

A spokesperson for the ICO said: "All organisations must be clear and transparent with people about how and why they collect and intend to use their data. This ensures people can make a fully informed decision about their personal information and know what they are consenting to. Anyone who has concerns about how their information has been used can complain to us.”

DEPHER CIC is not officially classed as a charity
The BBC alleges DEPHER CIC 'faked or exaggerated stories of helping people'

In one post on X, formerly Twitter, DEPHER reportedly included a picture of an unnamed woman next to Mr Anderson, with her face covered by an emoji.

The BBC investigation alleges it found the image had been used a total of seven times between February 2021 and August 2023, with different ages and locations, and that the woman had died over a year before they began using her image. Her daughter told the BBC the details posted by Mr Anderson were "a complete lie"

He denied posting the image himself but admitted the post was "not true" and said he apologised to the family, telling the BBC: "That’s not the lady."

The Burnley-based company also posted an image of another woman with her face blacked out and claimed that she had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mr Anderson told the BBC that the post was "a lie" after they identified her from previous DEPHER posts and pledged to investigate how it was sent from his company's X account.

DEPHER CIC is not officially classed as a charity, but can accept donations as a community interest company. These operate to provide a benefit to the community they serve - and its purpose must be primarily one of community benefit rather than private profit.

While a CIC operates in the same way as any other company, any assets must not be used for private gain. This is described as a "fundamental feature of Community Interest Companies" by the Government.

Directors can be paid or unpaid and have the same rights and duties as any other directors.