Penny for London, the contactless donations scheme launched by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson that hoped to raise millions for good causes, has closed down having raised just £3,000.
The scheme, which encouraged Londoners to donate a penny or more each time they used their Oyster card to travel, had hoped to raise up to £25m a year if one in 10 London residents signed up. It was believed to be the world’s first contactless donation scheme.
But according to spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Fund for London, the charity that ran the scheme, it raised just £3,394 from 4,316 people in the 22 months following its launch in October 2014. The scheme closed on 24 August.
"Despite almost universal approval from Londoners, the programme did not convert this tacit support into enough registered donors to make it sustainable," said a statement from Matthew Patten, chief executive of the Mayor’s Fund for London.
The Mayor’s Fund spokeswoman said it had not ultimately been able to attract a critical mass of about 50,000 users to sustain the project.
She said the charity faced a major barrier in translating public support for this kind of scheme into actual registrations because many people were deterred by the prospect of having to register their email and card details.
Penny for London launched amid great fanfare two years ago, when it was announced that money raised through the scheme would be split three ways: the Mayor’s Fund would receive 35 per cent of proceeds, the scheme’s partners’ charities would receive 30 per cent, up to a maximum of £6m, and the remaining money would be open to applications from London-based charities working with disadvantaged young people.
In July 2015, the Mayor’s Fund reported that 2,500 people had signed up to the scheme and that £1m would be raised if registrations reached 100,000 last year, with that figure set to rise to £25m a year if one in 10 Londoners signed up.
Describing the scheme as a "revolution in charitable giving", the charity reported at the time that the scheme had awarded £30,000 to ten charities including The Honeypot Children’s Charity and Camden Arts Centre.
But the charity’s spokeswoman said today that this funding had come from the scheme’s partners including Caffé Nero and the food retailer Leon, which had allowed people to donate a penny every time they paid using contactless in their outlets, and Visa, which match-funded its employees’ donations through the scheme.
The charity appeared to be planning to continue with the scheme as late as April this year.
Its 2015 impact report, published that month, read: "We are currently reviewing the performance of Penny for London and considering a national roll-out of the programme shaped by the lessons learned from the pilot."
The closure of the scheme came just three months after Boris Johnson, who launched the scheme and is now Foreign Secretary, was replaced as London mayor by the Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan.
The Mayor’s Fund spokeswoman said: "While Penny for London benefited from excellent pro bono promotional support, to increase awareness and appeal, it needed resources beyond the Mayor’s Fund.
"Looking forward, significant and dedicated advertising planning and spend would be recommended, in addition to promotional support from other partners."