Listen cuts deal to pay off £650,000 debts

The telephone fundraising agency has entered into a company voluntary arrangement and warns that traditional high-volume telephone fundraising has had its day

The telephone fundraising agency Listen has worked out a deal to pay off debts of more than £650,000 after going through a "significant corporate restructure".

The company, whose workforce has fallen from 332 in March 2015 to 106, warned that "the days of high-volume traditional telephone fundraising are gone".

In a statement, Listen blamed the General Data Protection Regulation – stricter EU data rules that came into force in May – for a period of lower-than-expected trading in 2018, which led to it entering into a company voluntary arrangement last month.

The CVA will allow the business to manage repayment of its debts over an extended period of time and continue trading at the same time.

According to documents filed with Companies House, the company owes £319,000 to HM Revenue & Customs, £325,000 to the leasing company Stadium Investments and £7,000 to Listen’s parent company TCLLH.

Listen said in a statement that it had no outstanding liabilities to clients.

In the most recent available accounts for the company, for the year ending March 2017, the directors chose not to include an income statement, but the accounts for the year before showed the agency went from a profit of £954,538 in the year to March 2015 to a deficit of £202,895 in 2015/16.

The CVA came after what the statement called "a significant corporate restructure" and included a renegotiation with the company’s landlords to cut costs and reduce office space.

Ben Smith, the company’s joint managing director, said: "It has undoubtedly been a challenging fundraising marketplace in recent years and the GDPR has proved to have had even more of an impact than either Listen or our clients predicted."

He said Listen continued to have a strong client base and that it had never had a better fundraising performance or lower complaint levels.

But he said: "We have to recognise that the days of high-volume traditional telephone fundraising are gone in the UK and we must adapt to becoming a smaller and more diverse business."

He said the CVA allowed the company to do that and would help it to secure the future of its staff.

In a statement, the company said it had "worked hard to develop and test new types of fundraising campaigns to diversify income streams, with plans in place to roll this out during 2019".

Listen was formed in 2008 and became the biggest telephone fundraising agency in the market after GoGen closed down in June 2015.

It was the focus of a Mail on Sunday investigation in 2015, with the newspaper accusing the agency of using high-pressure fundraising techniques, a claim that was later upheld by the Fundraising Standards Board, the percursor of the Fundraising Regulator.

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