FRSB upholds telephone fundraising complaint against Unicef UK

Jon Sparkes, the charity's chief operating officer, says it accepts the ruling and has reviewed its procedures

Jon Sparkes
Jon Sparkes

The Fundraising Standards Board has upheld a complaint about Unicef UK’s telephone fundraising after the charity repeatedly telephoned someone who had asked it not to do so.

The complaint was considered by the FRSB’s board after the complainant was left unsatisfied by the charity’s apology and the steps it took to rectify its procedures.

The FRSB’s adjudication report, published today, says that between 2000 and 2004 the unnamed complainant purchased Christmas cards from Unicef UK, and because of this the charity defined the person as a 'warm' supporter.

The complainant, who had been registered with the Telephone Preference Service since the 1990s, received four telephone fundraising calls from the charity in March and April 2011, the report says. On each occasion the complainant asked the charity not to call again.

According to the report, two of the calls were made after the charity had been contacted by the TPS alerting it to the issue, and it had written back saying the calls would stop.

The FRSB’s report says the complainant believed the charity had chosen to ignore their TPS registration because they had been defined as a warm supporter.

"The complainant believed that the charity decided that its interests were of more importance than the complainant’s clearly stated wishes and rights to privacy," the report says.

The FRSB board unanimously decided to uphold the complaint, on the basis that the charity had breached the Institute of Fundraising’s Telephone Fundraising Code of Fundraising Practice and data protection legislation by failing to suppress the complainant’s telephone number once they had asked not to be called again.

And it ruled that Unicef UK was in breach of two clauses in the FRSB’s Fundraising Promise, to which all its members must adhere, in not being honest, open and respectful.

In response to the complaints, Unicef UK provided evidence that it had undertaken a full review of its telephone fundraising and had made improvements such as introducing a charity-wide definition of 'warm supporter'. It said that all the data it held was now screened against the TPS register, including warm supporters, and that the timeframe within which callers were removed from calling lists had been reduced.

Lawrie Simanowitz, FRSB board member and partner in the charities team at Bates Wells & Braithwaite solicitors, said: "Although the board unanimously upheld this complaint, we felt that Unicef UK’s subsequent internal investigation and review of its telephone fundraising services, the way it works with suppliers and its treatment of TPS registration has been exemplary."

Jon Sparkes, chief operating officer at Unicef UK, said it accepted the FRSB ruling and apologised to the complainant unreservedly.

"In response to this case, Unicef UK has undertaken a swift and full-scale review of our telephone fundraising services, leading to improvements in our complaints procedure, telephone marketing scripts and the process by which we select former and current supporters for telephone contact," he said. "We believe our telephone fundraising services are now among the most robust in our market."

It is the second time the FRSB board has considered a complaint about Unicef. The first was informally resolved by the charity in 2009 after the FRSB found that some sections of an advert about immunisation could be misleading.

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