The Public Fundraising Association has launched its first investigation into one of its members after The Sun newspaper claimed last week that the face-to-face agency Neet Feet employed staff who targeted elderly people with aggressive techniques.
A statement from the PFRA, issued on Thursday, said the membership body’s standards sub-committee initiated an investigation into the company immediately after The Sun’s story was published on 11 July.
A spokeswoman for the PFRA, which is due to merge with the Institute of Fundraising this summer, said this was the first time the body had launched an investigation into one of its members, saying it was due to the seriousness of the allegations.
She said recent criticism of the IoF over its refusal last summer to take disciplinary action against members that breached the Code of Fundraising Practice had played no part in the PFRA’s decision to investigate.
Neet Feet, which had been working with Save the Children, Unicef UK, Action for Children, the Children’s Trust and the learning disability charity Hft at the time of The Sun’s investigation, was accused of employing drug-takers and encouraging people to approach properties with no-cold-calling stickers.
The PFRA’s standards sub-committee – which devises the body’s mystery shopping and penalties regime and is chaired by Nick Henry, its head of standards – met the management of Neet Feet to question them on the allegations earlier this week and said they had cooperated fully.
"A report will now be prepared for the board by the standards sub-committee on its initial findings," the PFRA said. "However, given the very serious nature of the allegations, Neet Feet’s membership of the PFRA is now under formal review."
The PFRA said it would make a final decision on the agency’s membership after the Fundraising Regulator’s inquiry into the situation had concluded.
The regulator’s inquiry will be carried out by its adjudication committee, of which Peter Hills-Jones, chief executive of the PFRA, is a member.
A spokesman for the regulator said this week that Hills-Jones would not be stepping back from the Neet Feet investigation, despite the PFRA’s pre-existing relationship with the company. The regulator had previously said that he would be.
"In this instance we do not believe Peter Hills-Jones will have a conflict of interest and will play a full part in the debate and the decision," the spokesman said on Tuesday.
Catherine Cottrell, deputy executive director of fundraising at Unicef UK also holds a seat on the adjudication committee, but the regulator said last week that she would not be involved in judging whether the agency breached fundraising rules due to a conflict of interest.
Calls to the Neet Feet’s head office in Bristol went unanswered on Thursday afternoon and all content aside from contact information has been removed from the agency’s website.
A spokesman for the agency said on Thursday afternoon that nobody from Neet Feet was available for interview.