Norwich call centre goes into liquidation leading to the loss of 150 jobs

Closure of Insight CCI. MD Melvyn Hill.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Closure of Insight CCI. MD Melvyn Hill.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A Norwich fundraising call centre has gone into liquidation with the loss of up to 150 jobs, with managers citing mounting pressure from industry watchdogs.

Insight CCI suffered from a regulatory clampdown and adverse publicity after the death of 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke in Bristol last year, said managing director Melvyn Hill.

The company piled up debts of more than £700,000 after charities, fearing a negative reaction from continuing to use fundraising agencies, withdrew their business.

Staff were given just a few days' notice of the closure on February 26, and have said they are still waiting for their wages.

Mr Hill said he had done everything he could to help employees, but conditions at the firm, based in St Andrews Hill, had become too difficult to carry on.

'We thought we could ride this storm but we couldn't,' he said. 'The negative publicity turned on us, the sector and also charities themselves.

'Our objective has been to raise money for good causes but we were finding the charities were afraid to make decisions and afraid to use people like us.'

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The tough conditions for fundraising agencies came after Mrs Cooke took her own life in May after being sent almost 3,000 mailings from charities in a year, according to the Fundraising Standards Board (FSB).

A report from the FSB said Mrs Cooke's family had indicated the 'cumulative impact' of the number of organisations mailing her had made her feel 'distressed and overwhelmed', and the public outcry over her death led to intense scrutiny into charity fundraisers.

Until August last year fundraisers were allowed to contact people on a 'no-call list' - the Telephone Preference Service - if they were already donors to the charity, but the rules were tightened following her death.

Insight CCI, which raised money for charities including Macmillan Cancer Support and Diabetes UK, is thought to be the seventh call centre to go under since the climate became tougher.

Andrew Kelsall, insolvency partner at accountancy firm Larking Gowen, said Insight CCI's directors had first approached him in November, where they came up with a plan to pay off debts with a Company Voluntary Arrangement - an agreement with the firm's creditors.

'However according to the directors the market for charity conditions continued to deteriorate, and by early February 2016 the directors spoke to me again about how the CVA wasn't going to work,' said Mr Kelsall. 'The only real solution was a liquidation.'

Mr Kelsall, who is the liquidator, said the company had assets of about £146,000 and liabilities of £775,000 - including £120,000 of holiday pay and arrears of wages owed to employees. Workers would be preferential creditors up to £800 each, he said.

Former employee Emily Eastman, 19, of Thurton near Loddon, had worked at the call centre since September.

'I am in a really tough position,' she said. 'I was last paid at the end of January. It feels like I'm living off my parents again.'

Miss Eastman, who lives with her 19-year-old partner Jordan Stone, said she was owed £863 by the company, but was concerned she would not be eligible for redundancy pay as her and 30 other staff members were dismissed days before Insight CCI went into liquidation.

A spokesman for the Institute of Fundraising, the professional membership body for UK fundraising, said it was producing new guidance for charities on best practice in managing relationships with fundraising companies.

The spokesman said: 'This is very regrettable news that Insight CCI, a fundraising agency with a track record of delivering fundraising campaigns for charities over many years, has ceased operating. It is a tough climate for many fundraising organisations at the moment who work to raise important funds for vital causes across the country.'

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