Fundraising Regulator says it can escalate complaints without reference to the charity

In contrast with its predecessor, the Fundraising Standards Board, which had a three-stage process of escalation, the new regulator will be able to make an early intervention, it says

The Fundraising Regulator will have the power to escalate a complaint directly to its adjudication committee without first consulting with the fundraising organisation concerned, according to its new complaints procedure.

The revised procedure, which has been published on the regulator’s website after a review last month, also says the regulator will be able to decline to proceed with complaints from "unreasonable complainants".

Most of the procedure is almost identical to that followed by the regulator’s predecessor, the Fundraising Standards Board, but one major difference is that whereas the FRSB followed a strict three-stage process when handling complaints, the new regulator will be able to escalate a case to its adjudication committee for a decision at any stage after receiving a complaint.

The FRSB’s first stage was to receive the complaint and, if necessary, send it to the charity to resolve it; the second stage was to mediate between the charity and the complainant; and the third stage was for the board’s adjudication committee to take a decision.

Asked if the Fundraising Regulator considered it fair to deprive charities of the opportunity to resolve a complaint themselves, a spokesman for the FR said it recognised that putting a complaint directly to the organisation concerned was usually the fastest way to resolve it and encourage learning and improvement.

"However, we also recognise that there might be some cases where, due to the nature of the complaint, it would be appropriate to intervene at an earlier point," the spokesman said. "Examples might be where we think there is a risk to the public or if we consider there is a wider issue with implications for the whole sector."

Another change from FRSB procedure is that the FR says it may decline to proceed with complaints from "unreasonable complainants".

Asked how a complainant would be deemed  unreasonable, a spokesman for the FR said this would be if they were making "unreasonably persistent" complaints that affected the regulator’s ability to deal with other cases.

"As a regulator, we have discretion to investigate complaints and decide that no action is necessary," he said. "We would need to respond appropriately, which could be to restrict contact with that individual."

The new complaints procedure also outlines, for the first time, the process that fundraising organisations must follow to call for an "external review" if they want to challenge the outcome of one of the FR’s investigations.

It says that investigated organisations have no legal right to appeal decisions, but parties to a complaint may request a review if: the FR rejects a request to re-open the investigation despite new evidence being submitted; where there was a "material defect" in the process by which the FR’s decision was made; or where it is believed that the decision was "manifestly unreasonable" and "not one we could sensibly make having regard to all the relevant facts."

Requests for a review should be made to the vice chair of the regulator’s board, who is Margaret Moore, former head of competition and regulatory practice at Travers Smith LLP, within four weeks of the FR’s decision on a case.

The vice-chair will then seek further information from Sarah Fox, the FR’s head of case work and adjudications, or the FR’s adjudications committee. If she believes there might be grounds for review, she will refer the case to an external reviewer.

The FR’s spokesman said the regulator would be approaching suitably qualified people with experience of being reviewers with a view to appointing someone by February.

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