How long should consent be considered valid?

There have been big changes in the telephone fundraising industry recently, and the subject of contacting people who have not given consent has been discussed extensively. A confusing situation has arisen regarding “express consent” and how long this should be valid for, particularly when it comes to people who have registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). It was expected that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would announce this type of consent be considered valid for up to 12 months but this raised concerns and the debate deepened further. 

The ICO confirmed that putting a fixed period like 12 months in place for “express consent” to remain valid would be very difficult. They did reaffirm their belief that it should only be temporary and went on to say that the length of time should depend on the context. They pointed to the fact that a donor may have supported a very specific campaign that only lasted a short space of time when they gave consent originally. In this case, it would therefore be inappropriate for the charity to contact that person with unrelated messages at a later date, even if it did fall within the next 12 months.

The ICO’s guidelines on direct marketing advise charities not to rely on indirect consent when contacting people for the first time if permission was given over six months ago. They feel this should apply to all types of direct communication, including telephones and email.

Whatever length of time is agreed, it is clear that charities need to be more proactive in maintaining their data and should check donors regularly to make sure they are still happy to be contacted. This would help to reduce the number of complaints that arise as people who hadn’t expressly said they wanted to be contacted wouldn’t be.

As a professional telephone fundraising agency, we are always careful and conscientious when contacting people on the behalf of the charities we represent. The work we put in helps us to offer an excellent service for each charity and their supporters too, maximising value for each party. It has also enabled us to maintain a tiny 0.02% complaint rate.

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