Information Commissioner's Office
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Charities urged to sign up for ICO data protection ‘check up’ as top five tips revealed

Charities and third sector organisations stand to benefit most from a data protection ‘check up’, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) confirmed yesterday as the ICO published its top five areas for improvement for small and medium sized organisations.

With charities often handling sensitive information, such as individuals’ medical details, they are potentially more susceptible to encountering a serious data breach. This could result in the ICO serving the organisation with a monetary penalty of up to £500,000. However by using yesterday’s top five tips and signing up for a free one day advisory visit, the ICO is highlighting the support available to help them keep their personal information secure.

Louise Byers, Head of Good Practice at the ICO, said:

“We are aware that charities are often handling extremely sensitive information relating to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. With these organisations often lacking the money to employ dedicated information governance staff, there’s a danger that many charities may be struggling to look after people’s data.

“We have published today’s top five areas for improvement to show the voluntary and charity sector that good data protection practices can be cheap and easy to introduce, providing they have the right help and support.

“A one day advisory visit from the ICO provides charities with a data protection ‘check up’ and practical advice on how they can look after people’s information.  We are now calling on these organisations to use the summer period to check that their data protection practices are adequate and get in touch before it is too late.”

Sam Younger, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission said:

“Trustees are responsible for ensuring their charity complies with relevant legislation – including the Data Protection Act – and for protecting their charity’s reputation. Mishandling sensitive data not only causes individuals serious distress, it can also damage the good name of your charity. So I encourage trustees of charities that handle sensitive data to take note of the ICO’s guidance and consider taking part in an ICO advisory visit.”

The ICO’s top five areas for improvement are:

  1. Tell people what you are doing with their data. People should know what you are doing with their information and who it will be shared with. This is a legal requirement (as well as established best practice) so it is important you are open and honest with people about how their data will be used.
  2. Make sure your staff are adequately trained. New employees must receive data protection training to explain how they should store and handle personal information. Refresher training should be provided at regular intervals for existing staff.
  3. Use strong passwords. There is no point protecting the personal information you hold with a password if that password is easy to guess. All passwords should contain upper and lower case letters, a number and ideally a symbol. This will help to keep your information secure from would-be thieves.
  4. Encrypt all portable devices. Make sure all portable devices – such as memory sticks and laptops – used to store personal information are encrypted.
  5. Only keep people’s information for as long as necessary. Make sure your organisation has established retention periods in place and set up a process for deleting personal information once it is no longer required. 

Advisory visits are provided free of charge and give small and medium sized organisations the opportunity to discuss and receive practical advice from the ICO aimed at improving their data protection practices. The visits last one day and each organisation is provided with a short report summarising the ICO’s findings and providing practical advice on how they can improve.

Yesterday’s top five list covers the main areas for improvement highlighted by previous advisory visits carried out at small and medium sized charities and third sector organisations.

The ICO has produced a guide to ICO advisory visits (pdf) for organisations considering an advisory visit.

Organisations that would like to be considered for an advisory visit are invited to register their interest by sending an email to

We publish summary reports of the advisory visits already carried out with small and medium sized organisations.

The ICO has also produced guidance for the charity sector.

Notes to Editors

1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
3. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

4. The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales. See for further information.

5. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter.

6. For more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070.

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