BHF response to ICO action

6 April 2017        

Category: About BHF

Our Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, outlines our commitment to contacting you in ways you are comfortable with and have consented to, following recent media reports. 

You may have seen coverage in the media critical of how a number of charities, including the British Heart Foundation, have used some supporter data in the past. 

As a valued supporter, you are at the heart of everything we do at the British Heart Foundation. Thanks to your support, our research has helped to halve the death rate from heart and circulatory disease in the UK over the last 50 years.

I therefore want to reassure you that we insist on the highest possible standards in keeping your data safe. Giving to the British Heart Foundation should be a positive experience so please be assured that:

  • Your data is safe with us. We do not share your details with anyone else.
  • It is easy for you to opt out from future communications; you just need to tell us.
  • We adhere to all fundraising and data protection legislation

Our response

News stories have reported that the ICO has taken action against 11 charities for the ways they have historically used supporter data, with some of the coverage referencing a previous investigation in to the BHF, which has now closed. 

I want to make clear that we have always endeavoured to ensure our practices not only follow ICO and Institute of Fundraising guidelines but also constantly evolve and improve to match our supporters’ expectations.

By 2015, and before the ICO contacted us, we had already made even clearer the information we give supporters when asking for their consent to contact them and we have stopped all of the practices highlighted by the ICO. In fact, as recently as June of last year the Information Commissioner wasn't able to suggest any improvements for the BHF's information handling practices and was clear that the BHF was not a Data Controller of concern to them. 

We were therefore extremely disappointed in the action the ICO took, and believe key aspects of its findings were wrong, disproportionate and inconsistent. 

However, in January our Trustees took the decision to pay the penalty imposed on us by the ICO in order to close the matter and on the grounds that the unrecoverable costs of even a successful appeal would amount to more than paying the penalty. Swift settlement of the case also means the penalty is reduced considerably to £14,400, meaning this approach avoids what would be a costly and time intensive appeal process, distracting the BHF from our core work of beating heart disease.

A small group of supporters have approached us offering to pay the penalty as they also believe it is unfair and unmerited. They are keen, as are we, that no general donations are used to pay the penalty but instead continue to be applied in the fight against heart disease. We are extremely grateful for their and your continued support. 
Moving forward we will work closely with the ICO, the Institute of Fundraising, Fundraising Regulator and the Charity Commission alongside the rest of the charity sector to ensure the BHF meets best practice and the expectations of our generous supporters in handling their data and our fundraising processes.

Our promise to you

We value your opinion so if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact our supporter services team. 

They would also be glad to help if you would like to change your communication preferences or to opt out of receiving communications from us in the future. If you are unsure of our approach to contacting you, our Supporter Promise explains our commitment to be honest and transparent, and only contact you in ways you have consented to. 

Thank you for your support. It’s been the driving force behind medical breakthroughs that are today saving and improving the lives of heart patients.