Complaint about Age UK upheld by Fundraising Standards Board

The Fundraising Standards Board has upheld a complaint against Age UK after it made a fundraising call to someone who was registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

In an adjudication report published today, the FRSB says that in April 2015 the TPS-registered complainant received a telephone fundraising call from a third-party agency on behalf of Age UK as part of a campaign to ask people to leave gifts to the charity in their wills.

The report says the charity believed it was justified in making the call because in 2002 the complainant had requested information about wills from Help the Aged (which merged with Age Concern to form Age UK in 2009), having signed up for an energy product through the charity’s commercial arm Age UK Enterprises, which he cancelled in 2014, and had asked for a motor insurance quote from the same company in 2015.

He had never been an Age UK donor.

The complainant was upset both by the sensitive subject matter of what he considered to be a cold and unsolicited call and by the fact that he had been approached by telephone despite being registered with the TPS, the report says.

It says the FRSB concluded that the charity’s "limited interaction" with the person "was not sufficient to warrant overriding TPS registration with a fundraising call".

The adjudication, issued by the FRSB board at the third and final stage of its complaints process, says the charity breached the Code of Fundraising Practice in five ways and Age UK should take steps including issuing a written apology to the complainant, signed by an Age UK director.

It says it will refer the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The FRSB says the charity did not hold valid consent to use the complainant’s contact details for marketing purposes and it was inappropriate for the charity to consider the consent it believed the complainant had provided in 2002 was still valid.

It says the consent the charity believed the complainant provided by signing up to an energy product through Age UK Enterprises in 2014 was withdrawn when he cancelled the contract.

"It was inappropriate for Age UK to have determined that the contact the complainant made with Age UK Enterprises regarding a motor insurance product in 2015 provided additional justification for future fundraising approaches from the charity," it says.

The FRSB report says the charity should make sure that all future opt-out statements clearly indicate how a person’s contact details will be used by Age UK and provide convenient opportunities for individuals to opt out of future contact.

The charity should also conduct regular reviews of its fundraising database and take steps to ensure that people who have not "proactively engaged as donors" with the charity for a number of years are removed from future contact lists, the FRSB adjudication says.

Andrew Hind, chair of the FRSB, said he was particularly concerned to discover that the complainant’s phone number had been "misleadingly obtained from his commercial interaction with Age UK Enterprises, by Age UK, for fundraising purposes".

He said: "Charities need to be diligent in ensuring that they are only communicating with those who genuinely want to hear from them. When consent is given, charities cannot just assume that an individual is happy to continue receiving correspondence for many years afterwards, in the absence of a complaint or a specific request to opt out."

A spokeswoman for Age UK said the charity was disappointed the FRSB had found against it because the charity believed it had complied with the regulation that was in place at the time.

"However, we fully recognise the complainant’s concerns and have apologised unreservedly for the distress caused," she said. "Quite rightly, the public expects all charities to adhere to the highest standards of fundraising and, as far as Age UK is concerned, any complaint is one too many."

She said the charity had since made a commitment to contact its donors every two years to ask them if they were happy to renew their consent for the charity to them for fundraising purposes.

"Age UK’s fundraising charter, which we have also put in place since then, provides additional reassurance to anyone who is kind enough to consider supporting us, setting out, for example, our commitment not to fundraise door-to-door.

"Age UK has always worked hard with the aim of ensuring we comply with all fundraising guidelines and our fundraising activity is developed with the needs of our donors and of older people firmly in mind."

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