Five charities including Save the Children and Unicef UK have suspended their contracts with the face-to-face fundraising agency Neet Feet after The Sun newspaper claimed that the agency was employing fundraisers who targeted elderly people with aggressive doorstep techniques.
The Sun reported that Neet Feet had suspended operations at its Bristol headquarters in the wake of its investigation.
The Fundraising Regulator, which was launched last week, said it would investigate to establish whether any wrongdoing had taken place, and the Public Fundraising Association said it was in the process of suspending Neet Feet as a member of the PFRA.
The Sun, whose journalist spent a month working undercover as a fundraiser at Neet Feet, claimed that fundraisers employed by the agency were encouraged to approach properties that displayed "no-cold-calling stickers" – which was prohibited in the Code of Fundraising Practice last year – and that five employees had been seen smoking cannabis on three separate occasions.
Several of Neet Feet’s fundraisers had also served time in prison for crimes including robbery and domestic violence, according to the newspaper, and others boasted of signing up several elderly donors, including an old man who "looked brain dead" and a "disabled, old, vulnerable woman".
A spokesman for the Fundraising Regulator said: "We are investigating this matter with the charities in question to establish the facts. We’ll be able to provide further comment after investigations."
A spokesman for the PFRA said: "The behaviours and practices exposed in the media today have no place in charity fundraising and are not representative of the incredible work ordinary and honest fundraisers do every day. As such, we have begun the process of suspending Neet Feet from membership of the PFRA."
Mike Flynn, director of individual giving at Unicef UK, said the charity had worked with Neet Feet in a "very limited capacity" since last October but that it did not use the agency for door-to-door fundraising and had never worked with its Bristol headquarters. "We have suspended all our operations with the company while these allegations are looked into further," he said.
A spokesman for Save the Children said the charity was grateful to The Sun and had immediately terminated its contract with Neet Feet. "Neet Feet has signed up 3,698 supporters for Save the Children since it started fundraising for the charity in shopping centres and railway stations last August," he said.
Claire Wood Hill, director of fundraising at the Children’s Trust, said the charity had worked with Neet Feet since April on a small-scale test campaign. "We are deeply concerned by these allegations and have suspended all door-to-door fundraising with immediate effect," she said. "We will carry out our own investigation and fully cooperate with any external investigation that takes place."
Emma Sambrook, director of fundraising at Hft, said: "We are deeply disappointed to hear about the allegations of unethical fundraising made against Neet Feet. We expect any agency we work with to meet our high standards and, where these are not met, immediate action will be taken as a matter of urgency."
A spokesman for Action for Children said: "Unscrupulous fundraising practices are completely unacceptable. Any concerns highlighted to us will be investigated thoroughly."
Neet Feet, which appeared to have removed all content from its website this morning, did not respond to requests for comment in time for Third Sector’s deadline.