Tory MP calls for closer regulation of online fundraising platforms

In a Westminster Hall debate, Mary Robinson says they should be made to file their accounts with the Charity Commission or the Fundraising Regulator, and to adhere more closely to the fundraising code

A Conservative MP has called for the Fundraising Regulator to be given more scope to deal with online fundraising platforms that do not adhere to the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate about online giving platforms, Mary Robinson, MP for Cheadle, said the companies behind such platforms should be made to file their accounts with the Charity Commission or the Fundraising Regulator in order to improve their transparency.

She said that many people who used such sites to raise money were unaware that some were run by for-profit companies or that some would charge a processing fee for their services.

Robinson said she was pleased that online giving platforms could now register with the regulator and called on Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Civil Society, to encourage platforms that had not yet registered to do so and to sign up to the code.

"The Fundraising Regulator is a self-regulating body with no formal powers, so I further ask the minister what powers can be granted to the regulator to give it some teeth in dealing with platforms that do not adhere to the code of conduct?" said Robinson.

She said the fact that charities were required to submit their accounts to the Charity Commission and they were available to view on the commission’s website increased transparency across the sector, and online fundraising platforms should follow suit.

Many of the platforms take a fee from the money raised by individual fundraisers as well as charging charities to maintain a presence on their sites. For example, JustGiving charges 5 per cent of the total of each donation and the related Gift Aid, and monthly membership fees of up to £39 for charities that use the site, depending on their size and the service they use.

Robsinson said: "Time and again, I have come across users who registered with fundraising websites but were not aware of such substantial charges being taken from the donated funds.

"Users need to be aware of the costs and fees so that they can make an informed choice, just as we would expect with any other financial body. The payment process needs to be clear from start to finish."

Crouch responded by pointing out that the Fundraising Regulator did not have the same powers as other watchdogs, such as the Charity Commission, because it was not a statutory regulator.

"We think that effective self-regulation rather than government intervention can deliver on the public’s expectations," she said.

On the issue of platform fees and transparency, Crouch agreed it was important that charges were clear and said discussions with the platforms were continuing.

She also welcomed the decision of some fundraising platforms to waive or reduce their fees or to make donations in relation to fundraising for disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire and recent terrorist attacks.

In September the commission and the Fundraising Regulator met representatives from a number of platforms to discuss issues such as transparency.

Crouch said the two regulators had written to her on Monday to outline their progress on the issue.

She said the platforms had "shown that they are willing and committed to work with the regulators and the government to respond to public concerns and to strengthen standards and transparency".

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