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Blind Veterans UK: March 2020

Name and type of organisation: Blind Veterans UK (registered charity no. 216227)

Fundraising method and theme: Addressed Mail

Code themes examined: Supporter data, fundraising communications and complaint handling

Code breach? Yes

The complaint

In June 2019, the complainant contacted Blind Veterans UK (the charity) to ask it to stop contacting their relative. This followed a previous request in December 2017 to end contact, as the individual concerned was showing signs of memory loss. The charity agreed to this request, but it contacted the individual again in August 2019.

What happened?

The complainant, who had Power of Attorney for their relative’s finances, contacted the charity in June 2019 after finding further correspondence had been sent to their relative following their initial request to stop contact.

The charity acknowledged the request had not been completed in December 2017, due to an ‘oversight’ by a member of its staff. It apologised for the error and confirmed that their relative’s information had now been removed from its mailing list. The charity advised that one final letter may be received in the next six to eight weeks, as there may be mailings already with its printers.

The charity advised us that its record of the complainant’s relative had been updated to show that they may be vulnerable in June 2019. It told us that a decision had been made in June 2019 to mark the records of all donors who may be vulnerable going forward. It said it was also in the process of drafting a vulnerable person’s policy.

In September 2019, the complainant contacted the charity again because their relative received another letter in August 2019. The complainant contacted us to advise that they were dissatisfied with the charity’s response because they believed the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) allows charities up to 28 days to suppress an address.

Our decision

We found that the charity should have suppressed the record of the complainant’s relative in December 2017, when the first request was made. The code allows organisations 28 days to stop processing an individual’s personal data. The charity failed to suppress the record until it had received two complaints requesting it do so.

This delay caused the complainant’s relative to receive 15 further mailings over a two-year period. Even after the charity suppressed the record in June 2019, it was not able to prevent a further mailing being sent in August 2019. We therefore found that Blind Veterans UK had breached two areas of the code in relation to managing data and requests to stop direct marketing.

We accept the charity’s view that the failure to stop direct marketing was down to human error and there is no evidence to suggest it was a deliberate action to exploit a vulnerable donor.

We did not find the charity breached a section of the code which related to people in vulnerable circumstances.

We also found the charity investigated and responded to the complaints promptly and accepted liability for the error. However, as the record was not suppressed in the first instance, we found that the charity had breached the code in relation to complaints handling.

Recommendations

We recommended that the charity use the learning from this case to remind its staff of the importance of acting promptly on receipt of a request to change supporter contact preferences.

In response to our draft decision, the charity told us it had taken action and was now confident it can remove people from its marketing activities within 21 days. It said it will continue to monitor this to ensure the target is met and see if this can be improved. We were pleased to hear this and asked to be updated on this work.

Outcome

The charity accepted our recommendations. We asked the charity to write to us within two months of the date of our final decision to outline the actions taken in response to our findings and recommendation.