The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says the RSPCA “abused the trust” of millions of its donors by secretly screening them so they could target them for more money.

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The RSPCA was fined £25,000 for breaching Data Protection regulations. Image: Nmedia / fotolia.

So-called “wealth screening” was one of three ways the RSPCA breached the Data Protection Act by failing to handle donors’ personal data consistent with the legislation, said the ICO.

It claimed the charity also:

  • traced and targeted new or lapsed donors by piecing together personal information obtained from other sources
  • traded personal details with other charities, creating a massive pool of donor data for sale

Donors were not informed of these practices, so were unable to consent or object.

‘Disagree with conclusions’

In fining the animal charity £25,000 for breach of Data Protection regulations, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “The millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn their generosity wasn’t enough. And they will be upset to discover charities abused their trust to target them for even more money.”

RSPCA chief executive Jeremy Cooper said: “We are disappointed at the ruling and disagree with the conclusions drawn by the ICO. There is no suggestion 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.

“There has been one acknowledged contravention, through an inadvertent error, which we brought to the ICO’s attention.”

Changing ways

Mr Cooper added: “We always strive to ensure our practices fully comply with all relevant legislation and are carried out to a high standard. We are listening to the public and are changing the way we ask people to support our vital work, which meets their needs and expectations, while safeguarding potentially vulnerable people.

“Our supporters and members are the heart of the society. It is only thanks to them we can do the work we do rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming thousands of animals each year.”

The RSPCA said it no longer tele-matches data or wealth screens.

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