Analysis: How effective is the penalty points system for street fundraising?

Rupert Tappin, director of the agency Future Fundraising, believes the system requires some changes, and Ian MacQuillin, head of communications at the PFRA, says it remains under review

Rupert Tappin and Ian MacQuillim
Rupert Tappin and Ian MacQuillim

Figures released last week by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association showed that in the 12 months to August this year, agencies and charities that carry out street fundraising were issued with 59,018 penalty points for breaking rules used to regulate the technique.

The data is part of the PFRA’s first Street Compliance Benchmark, which makes available some of the data collected in the initial year of the PFRA’s penalties and sanctions regime, which began in August 2012.

The regulator issues 100, 50 or 20 points for each transgression, depending on its severity. Any organisations that reach 1,000 points during any financial year are fined £1 per point.

The PFRA says that 25 organisations, including 13 in-house teams from charities and 12 agencies, were covered by the regime, but will not say how many of them were fined. The average number of points works out at 2,361 per organisation. The regulator will this week send reports to the charities and agencies concerned so they can check their compliance scores against the average, but these scores will not be made public.

Rupert Tappin, director of the agency Future Fundraising, says the benchmark is good for transparency and accountability. But he questions whether the numbers of penalty points being issued are commensurate with the seriousness of the breach – for example, whether the maximum penalty of 100 points should be given for less serious breaches, such as fundraisers standing a few metres from their delineated spot.

"Now that we’ve had a year of the regime, we need to sit down with the agencies and charities and look at where points are being given and how successful it’s been," he says.

Ian MacQuillin, head of communications at the PFRA, says the system will be kept under review and there will be another formal consultation with members. He says the regulator is trying to draw a fine line between being transparent and giving critics "a stick to beat the sector".

On the question of issuing 100 points for fundraisers being outside their allocated areas, MacQuillin says that local authorities expect the regulator to enforce the delineations set out in site-management agreements. "There is no being slightly off-zone: you are either in the zone or not – and, if not, you risk incurring a 100-point penalty," he says.

The PFRA’s board will not scrutinise the individual reports, but it will be presented with an overall progress report at each quarterly meeting, says MacQuillin.

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, says: "Anything that seeks to improve fundraising practice on the street has got to be encouraged. It’s early days for the benchmark – hopefully, in time the PFRA will be able to share more detail with us as well as with the rest of the sector."

No charities contacted by Third Sector were willing to discuss the penalties regime or benchmark. Those who did not respond to requests to comment include Shelter, which has launched a street fundraising academy to provide campaigns for other charities, and Marie Curie Cancer Care, which found itself embroiled in the controversy when the agency it was using, Tag Campaigns, was found breaching street fundraising rules in summer 2012.

A spokeswoman for the British Red Cross, which has a large street fundraising operation, said: "We have checked with our fundraising team but, because we run our street fundraising in-house, we’re not well placed to comment on this."

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