Age UK broke fundraising code, regulator rules

The charity 'failed to take reasonable steps' to ensure the National Door to Door Company stopped delivering donation collection bags to complainant, the Fundraising Regulator concludes

Age UK, along with a distribution agency, broke the Code of Fundraising Practice after they were asked to stop sending collection bags to a particular address, the Fundraising Regulator has ruled.

In a case summary published today, the regulator revealed Age UK and The National Door to Door Company had delivered charity bags four times to a house that had a sign refusing unaddressed mail, including after residents asked them to stop. 

The regulator also said the charity had failed to handle the complaint properly or effectively monitor the third-party agency, as required by the code. 

The complainant first contacted Age UK in October 2017 after receiving a bag despite having a clear sign saying “addressed mail only” on their door, and was added to the charity’s no-call list. 

The agency overlooked the instructions not to deliver to the address, sending more bags in September 2018, November 2018 and October 2019. 

The charity and the agency apologised for the oversights and each time assured the complainant that their address, then postcode, and then their entire street had been removed from the distribution list. 

But by the fourth apology, the complainant replied that “they did not want a templated response, but wanted the charity to act”, the regulator’s report says. 

As a result of the final complaint, the agency removed the entire housing estate where the address was located from its distribution list. 

The regulator ruled that the agency had breached the requirements of the code by delivering to a house where there was a sign making it clear the residents did not wish to donate in this way. However, by removing the estate from its lists, it said the agency had demonstrated that it had learned from the complaint and taken steps to prevent future errors.

Nonetheless, it found that the charity had engaged in “unreasonably persistent fundraising” by allowing continued deliveries and had failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure the agency complied with the code.

The regulator said: “We found that the charity failed to respond to the concerns raised appropriately, as it issued the complainant with four similar responses, none of which acknowledged the failings in its process.”

It recommended that the agency should review both its system for communicating restricted addresses to its distribution staff and its training on households with ‘no charity bags’ signs, and that the charity update its contract with the company to include the requirement that it obey the code. 

The regulator also called for the charity to review its quality monitoring measures and consider what changes it needs to make to improve, and review how it records complaints in order to improve its handling of them.

Both the agency and the charity are required to write to the regulator within two months to outline the action they have taken in response to the report.

Nick Smith, head of retail at Age UK, said the charity was no longer working with the agency. 

“We are very sorry about the experience this complainant has had, and have apologised to them for the errors made and for the frustration they have faced,” he said. 

He said the agreement with the  bag distributor “clearly stated” that bags should not be delivered to addresses where there were signs stating they are not welcome, but that “these instructions were regrettably not followed”.

He said: “We accept the decision by the Fundraising Regulator and have reviewed their recommendations to ensure that this does not happen again.”

The agency did not respond to Third Sector’s request for comment.

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