Seven charities breached fundraising code when working with defunct agency, regulator finds

The Fundraising Regulator has today published its report into the face-to-face agency Neet Feet, which went into voluntary liquidation earlier this year

The Sun's report of its investigation into Neet Feet
The Sun's report of its investigation into Neet Feet

< This article has been updated; see final paragraph

Seven charities, including Save the Children, Unicef and the RNIB breached the Code of Fundraising Practice when working with the defunct fundraising agency Neet Feet, the Fundraising Regulator has concluded.

Released today, the adjudication, the regulator’s first since it was launched in July, found that the charities breached the code by not employing all reasonable efforts to ensure that Neet Feet fundraised for them in compliance with the code. The other four charities involved are Action for Children, the disability charity Hft, Smile Train and World Animal Protection.

In a 29-page report on the decision, the regulator says that Neet Feet, which went into voluntary liquidation in August, itself breached the six sections of the code by being derogatory to the public, accepting donations from vulnerable people, being unreasonably persistent and misleading in pressuring donors, fundraising under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and not employing best efforts to ensure donors were over the age of 18.

The Fundraising Regulator launched its investigation in July, three days after its launch, after The Sun newspaper reported that Neet Feet was employing fundraisers who targeted elderly people with aggressive doorstep techniques.

The report concludes that the other charities seemed to be disproportionately focused on how much money was raised rather than how it was raised. It says that more attention could and should have been paid to the experience of the donor.The regulator’s report says it is satisfied that an eighth charity that was contracted with Neet Feet at the time of The Sun’s coverage, the Children’s Trust, which supports children with brain injuries, took all reasonable efforts to ensure the agency adhered to the code.

The report says the regulator has asked the charities concerned to assure themselves that the internal reviews they each carried out because of this case were "thorough and robust and identified all possible learning".

Each of the charities’ chief executives has been asked to confirm to the regulator within three months that such assurance has been obtained and to confirm how they responded to the regulator’s decision and what further action has been taken.

Last week Jez O'Neill, director and co-founder of Neet Feet, criticised The Sun's reporting and said the story was a "complete set up". But the Fundraising Regulator's report finds no fault with the newspaper's reporting. 

At a press conference presenting the report in London on Thursday afternoon, Gerald Oppenheim, head of policy at the Fundraising Regulator, said the investigation consisted of reviewing six hours of video footage and a "helpful covering note" supplied by The Sun’s undercover reporter, and talking to the charities concerned and Neet Feet’s former directors.

"The charities and Neet Feet have seen their part of the report and we’ve taken corrections of fact from them, but there was never an opportunity to rewrite our conclusions," he said.

He said two of the charities – the Children’s Trust and Action for Children – and the directors of Neet Feet took up the regulator’s offer of reviewing the footage, but the other charities decided not to.

Commenting on the report, a spokeswoman for Save the Children said: "We accept the findings of the regulator’s investigation and constantly review and update our fundraising practices as we strive for the highest standards"

Unicef said the charity did not work with Neet Feet’s Bristol fundraising team, which was the subject of The Sun’s investigation. "However, this does not alter the fact that Unicef UK expects the highest standards from fundraising agencies across the board," a spokeswoman for the charity said.

Wanda Hamilton, fundraising director at the RNIB, said the charity had worked with an independent consultant to create a new framework for third-party fundraising.

"We will continue to review and improve the way RNIB monitors the work of external contractors, including listening to welcome calls and the implementation of a new mystery shopping process," she said.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: "Action for Children apologises to any member of the public in the Bristol area affected by the unacceptable conduct of individuals employed by Neet Feet when acting on behalf of our charity."

A spokesman for World Animal Protection said: "We had worked with Neet Feet for only 10 weeks, and suspended it immediately when the allegations came to light. We accept the Fundraising Regulator’s recommendation and have taken swift action to implement it."

A spokeswoman for Smile Train said: "All recommendations specified by the Fundraising Regulator have been carefully reviewed and fully taken on board."

Emma Sambrook, director of fundraising at Hft, said: "We accept that, despite running eight training workshops and regular mystery shopping exercises over a nine-month period, the frequency and recording of our monitoring processes could be improved further."

< A quote from Hft was added to this story after publication.

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