Independent review criticises Fundraising Regulator's handling of complaint

The Fundraising Regulator has been criticised for its handling of contested evidence after an independent review of its investigation into a complaint about a cancer charity’s fundraising practices.

In a review of its decision published yesterday, the regulator was found to have used vague evidence when criticising an allegedly unwanted bag drop by the Recycling Clothes Company on behalf of Against Breast Cancer.

The investigation began in October 2018 when the regulator received a complaint that the Recycling Clothes Company had delivered a charity bag to someone whose street was on a "do not distribute" list.

The company denied it had delivered the bag on the date specified, saying it had not been working in that area at the time.

The Fundraising Regulator upheld the complaint against both the charity and the company in January 2019, but the charity requested an external review.

Jon Wigmore, external reviewer for the Fundraising Regulator, had the case referred to him in June 2019 in order to examine new evidence submitted by Against Breast Cancer after the original case on the charity had closed. 

Among the complaints made by the charity were that the regulator’s approach to unwanted bag drops was “disproportionate and amounts to seeking perfection in an imperfect world” due to the “minuscule” number of complaints given the volume of bags delivered.

Wigmore concluded that, because of the significance of an adverse regulatory finding on an affected charity, the Fundraising Regulator needed to ensure such a ruling was founded on firm and, if necessary, tested evidence.

“Although I agreed with the Fundraising Regulator that it was positioned to find that a bag had been dropped at some point on or in the days prior to the complaint, contrary to the rules, I felt that the complainant’s oral accounts of when they had phoned ABC/RCC and when the drop had occurred were rather vague,” Wigmore said.

“They had clearly said different things about the date of the drop to both RCC and the charity, but this inconsistency did not seem to be taken into account by the FR at all.”

Wigmore recommended reviewing the regulator’s handling of contested evidence, but added that all three parties should “reflect further on ways of communicating better in future”.

After Wigmore’s review, the Fundraising Regulator revised its decision, taking into account that it “could not reconcile the conflicting evidence relating to the delivery of the charity bag” and was therefore unable to reach a finding on this point.

But the updated decision from the regulator found the charity had failed to investigate the complaint thoroughly.

In a blog post published yesterday on the regulator's website, Catherine Orr, head of casework at the Fundraising Regulator, said: “One of the reviewer’s recommendations was to revisit our original decision in light of their findings. Today we publish our revised findings and recommendations to the charity and agency in an investigation summary

“While no one likes criticism, I appreciate the opportunity to have our casework reviewed and believe that this process is important as we continue to develop and improve our services.”

She said the regulator had reviewed its handling of contested evidence and produced an action plan, which had been presented to its Complaints and Investigations Committee.

She said the regulator had also met the charity and the agency “to reflect on better ways of working together in the future”.

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