Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, has called for the fundraising self-regulatory bodies to take action to ensure that high-pressure donor recruitment tactics are "stamped out for good" after a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed several potential breaches of the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice at the fundraising agencies Listen and Street Academy.
Oxfam has suspended use of the agencies after publication of the report, which includes video footage of staff being trained how to get around pensioners’ objections to donating and reports of donors being phoned within hours of making their first donations.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, said he was "deeply concerned" by the claims and his organisation would investigate to see whether any breach of fundraising standards took place.
In the Mail on Sunday report, an undercover reporter from the newspaper attended a training session for new recruits at the telephone fundraising agency Listen in which they were taught how they might extract donations from a 98-year-old pensioner and a new mother just home from hospital after giving birth to twins.
The report – run under the headline "'We don't care if she's 98... she's not dead, so get her cash': Mail on Sunday exposes tactics of cynical call centre used by Britain's biggest charities including Oxfam, Cancer Research and the RSPCA" – says another reporter made a £6 text donation to Oxfam after she was approached by a street fundraiser working for Street Academy, the face-to-face agency set up by the housing charity Shelter in 2013, in Newcastle. Less than three hours later, she received a call from Listen asking her to set up a monthly direct debit.
Wilson said in a statement that, if true, the practices were "totally unacceptable".
He said: "I will personally make sure this is thoroughly investigated by the industry bodies and that they take whatever action is necessary to make sure practices such as this are stamped out for good."
Tim Hunter, director of fundraising at Oxfam, said in a statement that the newspaper’s headline was factually incorrect because it was against Oxfam’s policy to target vulnerable people.
Hunter said the charity took the allegations "very seriously" and had suspended all operations with both agencies pending a thorough investigation.
The other charities named in the article as working with at least one of the agencies were CRUK, the RSPCA, Unicef UK and Shelter, each of which will reportedly begin inquiries in the wake of the report.
Tony Charalambides, managing director of Listen, was also managing director of Tag Campaigns, the fundraising agency that was forced into voluntary administration after the adverse publicity of a Sunday Telegraph investigation in 2012.
After carrying out an investigation later that year the FRSB agreed that Tag had broken charity law.
Charalambides stepped down from the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association board in January 2013.
A spokeswoman for Listen said the agency was fully investigating the allegations.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "We take any accusation of bad practice among street fundraisers employed by Street Academy very seriously and undertake regular mystery shopping to make sure that they adhere to our strict code of practice and that of the PFRA at all times. We will fully investigate this incident and take necessary action to make sure that we continue to maintain our high standards."
Richard Taylor, executive director of fundraising at CRUK and chair of the IoF, said: "Clearly the film footage was very disturbing. An internal investigation has started and it will establish if this company has fallen below the high standards we set and if Institute of Fundraising guidelines have been breached. While we wait for the results of this investigation, we have taken the decision to suspend the company."
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said the charity planned to be fully involved in the reviews being conducted of by the FRSB and the IoF.
Unicef was unable to comment in time for Third Sector’s deadline.