Q: Although I say it myself, I think I am quite a generous donor to charity, given my income. My giving is not quite at the level of building an extension to the National Gallery or endowing an Oxford college, but I do give several thousand pounds a year to various charities that I favour.
The charities like donors to contribute using the Gift Aid scheme, which means they can reclaim tax on the gift, increasing the monetary value by 25 per cent. To do this you have to give your name and address and declare you are a taxpayer.
I’m very cagey about giving out my personal details to anyone, and I don’t like doing this. Even though I say I don’t want to receive correspondence from the charities, and don’t want my name kept on a database or passed to anyone else, I don’t trust the system, and the number of “begging letters” I receive from other charities I’ve had no connection with, asking for donations, seems to bear this out. I’m really fed up about this and angry that the charities aren’t respecting my privacy.
I feel they are taking advantage of me. Should I stop giving?
A: How I sympathise with your plight – but don’t stop giving! The thing I hate worst is unsolicited mail from peddlers of Over-50s plans (“no medical necessary”) and inheritance tax avoidance seminars. The thing I hate nearly as much is begging letters from charities that I don’t have an interest in, particularly those looking for a legacy. I’d honestly rather receive a gas bill or a reminder about a dental appointment than one of these.
OK, I know the arguments. These methods of fund-raising are successful, and without them much of the good work done by charities would not take place. Sending unsolicited mail allows worthy charities to reach potential donors who hitherto had not heard of the cause. I know. I just don’t like it. It feels intrusive. The idea that I might have been targeted because of my age, because of my income profile or because the charity seems to think I am a soft touch, just seems to make matters worse.
It would be a huge shame if you stopped supporting your favourite charities, and I am sure you aren’t going to do that. As you point out, you can always make your donations anonymously.
Unfortunately, as you also point out, to provide a paper trail and avoid fraud you have to give your name and address and declare yourself to be a taxpayer for the charity to get the 20 per cent tax back [Desk: correct] on your donation under the Gift Aid scheme. If you are lucky enough, if lucky is the right word, to be a higher-rate taxpayer, you can claim back the extra 20 per cent above the basic rate for yourself.
Firms, including charities, have to be very careful with the way they handle your data and can be prosecuted if they don’t take care of it, so I don’t think you are at risk from revealing your details to the charities you support. You should, however – as you say you already do – make it clear that you don’t want them to contact you and that you don’t give permission for them to pass your details to third parties.
A threat to withhold future donations should make them sit up and take notice if they fail to observe your wishes.
You may need to be a bit more proactive to stop mailing from organisations you have had no contact with before.
One thing you could do is sign up to the Mailing Preference Service, to ask to have your name taken off address lists. The service is run by the Direct Mail Association, which publishes a code of practice that members must adhere to.
Charities are like any other mailing company in that they are supposed to stick to these rules. They should check their mailing lists against the MPS database before mailing you. If they fail to observe your wishes you can report them to the Information Commissioner.
You should be careful when signing up for offers, entering competitions and ordering things by post and on the internet about what is going to happen to your data. Watch out for “opt in” clauses on forms, which allow the company that you are dealing with and their “carefully selected partners” – for which read “anyone they sell your name and address to” - to contact you.
You also need to take care when completing the electoral registration form that you are sent each year. Make sure that you opt out of being included on the edited electoral register. Mailing companies buy this data with the express purpose of sending you junk mail. If you have already sent back your form for next year, you can opt out at any time of the year by contacting the Electoral Registration Office at your local council
If you receive unsolicited mail, you should just ignore it, or – if you can be bothered – write “Not known at this address – return to sender” on the envelope and put it back in the post.
Charities send bulk mailshots because they believe that, since you have given before, you will give again. If you make it clear that they won’t get anything out of you they will save their money and spend the postage writing to someone else.
That doesn’t mean that under-resourced charities will clean their mailing list of old addresses and opt-outs, but it should help to cut down unwanted mail.
You can get more information on stopping junk mail on the very useful website called – unsurprisingly – stopjunkmail.org.uk.
The Stay Private https://stayprivate.org/ website allows you to sign up for the Mailing Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service at the same time.
* Read Annie Shaw's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.
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