Our independence is under threat, claim Age Concerns

Age UK runs into resistance as it tries to build up a federated structure

Age Concern UK
Age Concern UK

Some large local Age Concerns are resisting overtures to join Age UK because they are worried about losing independence and are put off by what they see as the secretive and corporate nature of the new national charity.

Age UK was formed in April by the merger of Age Concern and Help the Aged – the largest charity merger in the UK for eight years. It is now trying to recreate the federation of 332 local Age Concerns, which are all independent charities, under its new banner.

Age Concerns have been invited to sign ‘brand partnership agreements' on condition they first sign wide-ranging confidentiality agreements. They are also being asked to pass information about their beneficiaries to the national body and cede control of their websites.

Age UK is predicting that the vast majority will become partners. Twenty-five have signed up so far, but others are resisting, including some big city organisations. This raises the possibility that Age UK and local Age Concerns will end up as rival charities.

"The fear is that we end up with this national juggernaut of an organisation competing against us," said one senior Age Concern manager, who asked not to be named. "But if we sign this agreement, we are worried we will lose independence."

She said she was concerned about the requirement that Age UK would host local organisations' websites and that data about beneficiaries would be passed on. She said she was also worried that changes to agreements on fundraising and shops would not help local charities.

Steph Harland, people and operations director at Age UK, said the charity wanted to collate statistics on people helped by Age Concerns, but would not ask for their names.

She said local groups would have editorial control over their websites, "within guidelines", and the new shops and fundraising agreements simplified what she described as confusing old agreements.

Harland said it was normal for negotiations on legally binding contracts to be conducted confidentially. One Age Concern chair, who asked not to be named, said: "Quite what commercial confidentiality has to do with a bunch of charities trying to do a better job for vulnerable older people is another matter entirely."

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