An investigation is launched after it emerges that some of Britain’s biggest charities are exploiting a loophole in the Telephone Preference Service system
Charities are under investigation for exploiting a legal loophole to cold call vulnerable people who had registered on the official “no-call” list and hounding them for cash.
The information watchdog is concerned that people registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which is supposed to stop unsolicited calls, are nevertheless being contacted by some of Britain’s charities.
Undercover reporters working for the Daily Mail found that one of the call centre agencies used by these and dozens of other charities was telling staff to be “brutal” and “ferocious” in dealing with potential donors.
GoGen staff were taught to “deflect” any objections raised by those who answered the phone. This applied regardless of whether potential supporters were in their nineties, had dementia or admitted to confusion and memory problems.
The Information Commissioner’s Office believes the company could be breaking the law. All the charities denied acting unlawfully and have begun internal inquiries. Oxfam has suspended telephone fundraising and Save the Children said it had already ended cold-calling.
The death of poppy seller Olive Cooke put fundraising tactics in the spotlight
Stephen Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “On the face of it this could be a breach of both the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
“We will be launching an investigation into the call centre and charities involved.”
Its inquiry comes with charities already facing scrutiny over the tactics used to solicit donations – particularly after the death of Olive Cooke. The 92-year-old, who was Britain’s longest-serving poppy seller, was battling depression and had expressed her dismay at being unable to answer all 260 charities appeal letters she received each a month.
What the charities say
A spokesman for Macmillan said: “We take the claims made by the Daily Mail seriously and are looking into these as a priority. We do not wish to contact people if we are aware this is unwanted.”
A spokesman for the British Red Cross said the charity was “deeply concerned” by the claims and would seek clarification to ensure it was not in breach of the law.
A spokesman for the NSPCC said it had “contractual arrangements in place with those that fund-raise on our behalf, including strict guidance on vulnerable people, and expect the highest standards of behaviour.”
An Oxfam spokesman said: “Oxfam fights for the rights of poor and vulnerable people across the world and we apply our values to all aspects of our work. We would never exploit an individual’s vulnerability in our marketing.
“Our agencies have clear, regulated policies that help strike the appropriate balance between enabling people with dementia to live as full a life as possible, including supporting their favourite charity, and protecting them from the vulnerability caused by dementia.”