An investigation by the Fundraising Standards Board has concluded there were "significant failures" that led to breaches of charity law and fundraising rules at the face-to-face fundraising firm Tag Campaigns.
The FRSB’s report on its investigation, published today, says that while providing a text-to-donate appeal on behalf of Marie Curie Cancer Care in London in June, Tag fundraisers deliberately misled, confused and obstructed members of the public, thereby breaking the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice.
The FRSB found four areas in which the IoF’s face-to-face activity code, which has since been incorporated into the new single Code of Fundraising Practice, had been breached, including a failure to carry out adequate background checks on its fundraisers and a lack of training on solicitation statements, which set out the fee the company they work for will be paid and how this is worked out.
The FRSB has passed its findings about solicitation statements to the Charity Commission because it is a breach of charity law for fundraisers to fail to make a disclosure to people signing up to a direct debit.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said it was assessing whether it would investigate Marie Curie, which was criticised in the report for failing to monitor adequately the fundraising services being provided by Tag, in the light of the FRSB’s findings.
The FRSB found that Tag was not guilty of four other breaches of the code, concerning training and in the provision of contracts for its fundraisers.
Tag is not a member of the FRSB, but Marie Curie is. The regulator said it was writing to the government to call for all fundraising organisations above a set voluntary income, to commit to its regime, as recommended by Lord Hodgson in his review of the Charities Act 2006.
The FRSB launched its investigation after a report in June by The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, based on the findings of one its reporters working undercover as a Tag fundraiser, showed evidence of misconduct and substandard fundraising at the agency.
After meeting to consider the allegations on 2 October, the FRSB’s board "felt it was likely that the code breaches it identified were not only due to the actions of a few individual fundraisers, but the consequence of significant failures at Tag", the report states.
The FRSB has invited Tag to commit to a 12-month monitoring programme to assess the efficacy of the new systems it has put in place to improve its fundraising.
Fabian French, director of fundraising at Marie Curie, said: "With the benefit of hindsight, we accept that we should have monitored Tag’s activities more fully.
"We recognise that the investigation highlights some areas for improvement on best practice and Marie Curie has made extensive changes to its training and monitoring policies accordingly."
Colin Lloyd, chair of the FRSB, said the standard of Tag’s fundraising was unacceptable.
"The IoF’s code sets out clear guidance about what can and cannot be done when fundraising on Britain’s streets," he said. "It is essential that all fundraisers understand and actively apply this knowledge or risk damaging the reputation of the organisations they are raising money for."
A spokesman for Tag said it had accepted straight away that the Sunday Telegraph had identified shortcomings and taken immediate action to put them right. "This action included an overhaul of our training procedures, appropriate disciplinary action, and an undertaking to co-operate voluntarily with the FRSB investigation – even though Tag is not a member of it and is regulated instead by the PFRA.
"The FRSB found a number of breaches of the IoF Code relating to those issues where we took remedial action, and we accept – as we have done throughout – that we fell short of the high standards we set ourselves.
"In principle, we are happy to discuss a monitoring programme overseen by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association – which is the regulator for face to face fundraising – subject to the agreement of specific terms.
"As for FRSB membership, we propose to wait until there is clarity about how the proposals in the Hodgson Review will be taken forward, given that there is so much current uncertainty about the future of regulation. Along with around 90% of UK charities, we will therefore remain outside the FRSB for now."
The spokesman said Tag would cooperate with any inquiry by the Charity Commission into the finding that it breached charity law, and would be writing to the Public Administration Select Committee, which has a current inquiry into the operation of charity law, with "a number of observations and suggestions" arising from its experience of the last six months.The Tag statement on the PFRA being the regulator for face-to-face contrasts with a joint statement in September from the IoF, the PFRA and the FRSB, which said they were in "unanimous agreement" that the FRSB should be the single public-facing regulatory body and point of contact for the public with regard to complaints relating to any kind of fundraising.