Penny Appeal enforcement fuels ICO charity warning

penny appealThe Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a warning to all charity marketers about the dangers of sending unsolicited marketing texts to people after ordering Wakefield-based Penny Appeal to “cease and desist” or risk further action.

The move follows more than 350 complaints about a text campaign the charity ran two years ago to coincide with Ramadan.

In total, Penny Appeal sent more than 460,000 unsolicited texts over a ten-day period to 52,000 people who had never provided their consent, or who had clearly opted out. The texts, which were sent between April and May 2022, encouraged people on a daily basis to donate to the charity’s appeals.

Complainants reported their requests to opt out were ignored and described the texts as “intrusive”, “unwanted,” and often received late at night.

The ICO’s investigation found that the charity had created a new database where requests to opt out were not recorded and messages were sent to anyone who had interacted with the charity in the previous five years in direct breach of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

The regulator has been engaging with Penny Appeal since 2020, after receiving complaints about a similar marketing campaign.

Following the ICO’s intervention, the charity committed to improving its compliance with direct marketing law. However, further complaints revealed they were still sending illegal marketing texts. While still under investigation, Penny Appeal sent further spam texts over Ramadan, which led to even more complaints.

The ICO has now issued an enforcement notice, ordering Penny Appeal to stop sending marketing communications without consent within 30 days.

Following this action, the data protection regulator is reminding all charities that it is against the law to send marketing texts, calls, or emails without valid consent.

ICO head of investigations Andy Curry said: “Penny Appeal inundated people with text messages, with no regard for their consent or their right to opt out. This is unacceptable and we will act decisively to protect the public from unsolicited marketing texts. Despite providing advice and guidance to improve this charity’s compliance we were left with no choice but to take enforcement action in order to protect the public.

“We are here to support charities in their missions to responsibly raise funds for good causes and help people in need. We also appreciate that small charities may need a helping hand when it comes to understanding the law. However, this is not an excuse for breaking it. All organisations sending direct marketing messages are responsible for ensuring they have valid consent to contact every recipient.”

Fundraising Regulator chief executive Gerald Oppenheim added: “We support the ICO’s decision which echoes an investigation into the same issue that the Fundraising Regulator completed in 2022.

“While communicating with donors via text can be an effective tool for charities, it is vital that those charities abide by not only the law, but also the Code of Fundraising Practice – which stipulates that fundraising must be open, honest, legal, and respectful.”

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