Charities 'buying mailing lists'

Image caption Names and addresses can be rented from marketing companies

Some of the UK's biggest charities buy data lists to contact householders with "begging letters", the BBC has discovered.

This comes amid talks between ministers and charity regulators aiming to curb intrusive pleas for donations.

Twelve charities, including Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie, NSPCC, Save The Children and The British Red Cross say they have bought mailing lists.

Lists cost about £140 for 1,000 names, BBC Radio 4's You and Yours found.

Buyers can choose to spend more should they wish to target people of a certain age, gender or geography.

Names and addresses can be rented from marketing companies from files with headings such as "The Repeat Giving File", "Charity Mail Order Buyers" and "Donors to Alzheimer's Causes".


You and Yours has been contacted by several listeners concerned by the number of "begging letters" they are getting from charities.

For example, Louise Hartup told the programme she could not understand why her 95-year-old aunt got so many letters and gifts.

"She always gives cash without leaving her details, she is not on the open electoral register, and is always very careful about ticking the right boxes - but the letters keep coming," Ms Hartup said.

Andy Curry, from the Information Commissioner, which polices the system, said: "We have received a few hundred complaints about charity mailouts. We are looking into a number of charities and the way they use marketing messages."

The Institute of Fundraising told You and Yours that it would be reviewing its code of practice to make sure the right rules were in place.

Signing up

The charities that said they bought data were Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie, NSPCC, Save The Children, the PDSA, Breast Cancer Care, the RSPB, the British Red Cross, the Alzheimer's Society, St John Ambulance, the Salvation Army, and the Royal British Legion, which said it bought details of six million names last year.

Marketing agency EDM Media said that as well as helping charities find lists suitable for their specific appeals, it checked that potential donors were not subscribed to the Telephone or Mail Preference Service - which blocks junk mail and calls - and that consent to be contacted had been obtained.

Suzanne Lewis, managing director of EDM Media, said that some people would find themselves on lists after responding to surveys, subscribing to magazines or giving to other charities.

None of the 30 charities that responded to questions from You and Yours said they sold supporters' data. However, our researchers found lists advertised as containing data of donors to the British Heart Foundation, while another contained names of people who responded to a World Cancer Research Fund survey.

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