Giving money to charity – how will your details be used?

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If you give money to charity, you might be concerned about how your data is going to be used. Find out what the law says and what you can do.

Giving money to charity – how will your details be used?

If you give your details to charity, the charity must tell you how it’s going to use your information.  It must also ask for your consent if it wants to use your information for something other than what you agreed to at the time.

SAVVY TIP: When you give your details to a charity, or any other organisation, you must give your consent freely, the consent must be informed and you must agree to specific ways that your data can be used.

However, some charities have been using information without getting their supporters’ consent. This week the Information Commissioner fined the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation for misusing supporters’ details.

What is wealth screening?

Wealth screening involves using details you’ve given to a charity and combining that with publicly available information. The idea is to find out how wealthy you are and how likely you are to donate in the future. The data the charity holds could include your name and address, date of birth and the last donation you made. The information it’s combined with could include where you live and even information about your friends.

If a charity is going to use your details for wealth screening, you would have to be told. The charity couldn’t just tell you something vague like that it wanted to use your details for ‘internal use’. You would have to understand what it was going to do with your details.

SAVVY TIP: The RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation were both fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office for, among other things, doing wealth screening on millions of supporters without getting their permission. The ICO found the RSPCA had repeatedly screened its seven million supporters since 2010 but the RSPCA said it stopped in August 2016. The British Heart Foundation did the same between 2009 and 2014.

Data and tele-matching

Data matching involves a charity using an external company to find out more information about you than the details you’ve already given. For example, they may have your email address but not your address or they may not have up-to-date information. You should be told if a charity you support wants to use information about you that you’ve not given it.

Will your details be sold or shared?

If your details are going to be sold or shared, you must agree to this before it happens. A year or so ago it emerged that some charities were selling or sharing their supporters’ details with marketing companies. In some cases, their details were then sold on repeatedly, occasionally ending up in the hands of rather dodgy companies and scammers. The Fundraising Regulator has passed details of 15 charities to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which investigates data issues.

SAVVY TIP: A number of charities are or have been members of a database called Reciprocate, which lets charities share data of existing donors with other charities. This is fine if you agree to it.  But it’s not if you don’t know it’s going on or if you’re unclear about which charities your details will be shared with.

How can you find out how your data is being used?

The easiest way to find out what data a charity holds about you and how it uses it is to ask for a subject access request. This costs a maximum of £10. If you ask a charity for this, it must give you all the information it holds on you. There’s more information about getting a subject access request on the Information Commissioner’s website.

SAVVY TIP: Many people don’t realise that when they register to vote on the electoral register, there are two versions of it. The ‘open’ or ‘edited’ register is sold to companies for marketing, although companies still have to ask your permission to use your data. The full register is only used by government organisations and credit reference agencies. You have to opt out of the open or edited register otherwise your details will be included. There is more information on the open and full electoral registers on the ICO website.

How to complain

If you’re unhappy with the way a charity has handled your data, you should complain to the charity first of all. You can find out more about how to do this on the Information Commissioner’s website. If you’re still unhappy, you can then complain to the Fundraising Regulator.

If you prefer, you can also complain direct to the Information Commissioner. You can do this via the ICO’s website

Response from the charities

The RSPCA said it no longer wealth screens or tele-matches and said in a statement: “We are disappointed at the ruling and disagree with the conclusions drawn by the ICO. There is no suggestion that we lost or sold any personal data, but rather the ICO considered the information we gave to supporters on how their personal data would be used was inadequate.”

The British Heart Foundation said: “We are extremely disappointed in the action the ICO has taken. The trust our supporters put in us demands high standards of fundraising and we take the data protection responsibilities that come with this very seriously.”

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