Company selling adverts that never appeared has been targeting charities since at least 2017

The British Tinnitus Association says it paid almost £1,000 to Maxhill Media Publishers for non-existent advertising space in a Waitrose magazine; the charity managed to obtain a refund

A controversial sales firm has been targeting charities with non-existent advertising opportunities since at least 2017, it has emerged.

The British Tinnitus Association is the latest charity to report that it was approached by Maxhill Media Publishers and convinced to hand over money for advertising that never materialised.

Third Sector first reported on the activities of Maxhill Media Publishers in February, after two charities, the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation and the RNLI, handed over thousands of pounds for advertising opportunities that did not exist. The DRWF eventually received a refund after complaining.  

Last month, Third Sector reported that Maxhill Media Publishers had also approached Cosmic, the children’s charity attached to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, and another charity, which Third Sector has been told handed over £650 to the company. 

The BTA contacted Third Sector after reading the coverage, saying that in 2017 Maxhill offered it the chance to advertise on a voucher booklet that was allegedly due to be included the Waitrose Food magazine, which is sent out to the supermarket’s loyalty scheme members across the country.

David Steele, the charity’s head of individual giving, said: "We know from our demographic work that the people it was talking about targeting – the thousands of Waitrose members who get the magazine and storecard – were the people we were looking to connect with."

The charity accepted and paid £990 for an advert for its fundraising event, Tea for Tinnitus, according to Steele.

Waitrose has since confirmed to Third Sector that it has never worked with or sold advertising through Maxhill Media Publishers.

When the advert failed to appear, Steele contacted Maxhill and was told that the company had missed the deadline to send over the artwork for the advert and instead had given out the booklets by hand outside just one branch of the supermarket.

When he asked to see what had been handed out, the example that was sent to him was of such poor quality that it was "comical", Steele said.

Steele demanded a refund and three months later got one in full, although initially Maxhill attempted to keep £75 to cover its costs, he said.

"The other thing about it was that we’d paid a separate designer for the design work for the advert to get to that point," he said.

"It wasn’t much, but we’re a small charity, and it did cost us quite a bit of time and bit of stress.

"To do this to charities is ridiculous. How do they sleep at night?"

Maxhill has also offered charities the opportunity to advertise in The Times and The Sunday Times, Good Housekeeping magazine and voucher booklets sent out by Saga, Marks & Spencer and the Women’s Institute.

All of these organisations have said they do not sell advertising through Maxhill.

Maxhill has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Third Sector has reported Maxhill to Trading Standards and the Citizens’ Advice Consumer Helpline, which has flagged Maxhill’s activities as a "potential scam"

Any charities that have been contacted by Maxhill can get in touch with the Third Sector news team by emailing thirdsector@haymarket.com or by phoning 020 8267 4694.

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