The RSPCA and British Heart Foundation were facing a combined fine of £430,000 for flouting data protection laws until the personal intervention of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, the regulator has revealed.
Denham revealed the move during a debate at the charity conference organised by the ICO, the Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator earlier this week, following criticism from some in the sector that the ICO was unfairly singling out charities.
“We’ve been criticised for the actions the ICO has taken, but I believe we have been lenient,” said Denham. “I reduced the fines by 90% because I was very concerned about the impact on donors and supporters: what would the impact be to have charitable money going to the Treasury?”
She also revealed the ICO did not even know about the practice of wealth screening before the Daily Mail report in 2015. “We don’t know and can’t know about the practices across all sectors. We have a broad remit, but once we did we needed to take action,” Denham said.
The RSPCA and the BHF were handed fines of £25,000 and £18,000 respectively in December, but were facing penalties of £250,000 and £180,000.
Denham said the reductions had been made partly because it was the first time charities had been fined under the Data Protection Act and that organisations could not expect such leniency in the future.
However, it is not known whether the 11 charities which were recently warned they were facing fines will be treated the more harshly. A decision is expected in the coming weeks on whether fines will be levied against the charities.
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