‘Last chance’ for charities to self-regulate after scandal of aggressive fundraising tactics

Bernard Jenkin MP, who is chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs C

Bernard Jenkin MP, who is chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. - Credit: PA

Charities that employed aggressive fundraising tactics must put their house in order or face statutory regulation, a report demands today.

Olive Cooke, 92, was found dead at the bottom of Avon Gorge, Bristol. Photo: PA

Olive Cooke, 92, was found dead at the bottom of Avon Gorge, Bristol. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

It follows a series of damning allegations levelled at some of the best known charities in the UK - including Oxfam, the NSPCC, Save the Children and the RSPCA - last year.

They included claims that charities had bought and sold personal data, often through sub-contractors, and that they had ignored the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and put pressure on vulnerable people to donate.

Specific cases that were widely reported on included that of 92-year-old Olive Cooke who received thousands of calls and letters from charities asking for money before she killed herself.

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has today released a report which concluded that last summer's scandals were caused by the failure of trustees to fulfil their responsibilities.

The committee warned that the proposals put forward by Sir Stuart Etherington's fundraising review, which were published last year, represented the 'last chance' for self-regulation of charity fundraising.

Proposals included that a new single regulator should be established, and that the Charity Commission should oversee it.

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Bernard Jenkin MP, chairman of the committee, said: 'This sorry episode has damaged the reputation of charities across the board, including those who have behaved properly, and hindered their ability to raise essential funds.

'This is the last chance for the trustees of charities, who allowed this happen, to put their house in order.'

Local charity bosses said that members of the public were able to distinguish between the actions of a few larger charities and smaller groups.

Former Norwich South MP Simon Wright is chief executive of Nelson's Journey, a charity dedicated to supporting bereaved children and young people throughout Norfolk.

'Despite some of the poor behaviour highlighted in recent months, I believe that Norfolk charities still have a very good reputation amongst the communities that we serve,' he said.

He stressed that the charity did not use private contractors for fundraising, and that there was a relationship of trust.

'We are finding that businesses in Norfolk are increasingly thinking locally about the charities that they support,' he said. 'This could be in part as a result of concerns raised about some of the national charities, but it certainly comes through a desire to support good causes within the communities they operate.'

He added that there was no enthusiasm for statutory regulation - which he said would be expensive, encourage a litigious culture and be too rigid to respond to changing fundraising practices.

'Stronger self-regulation and effective support for charity trustees is certainly preferable and will lead to better practice in the sector,' he said.

Wendy Valentine, founder of Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Frettenham, said: 'We've never, ever phoned people for donations and never passed on their details. 'We've been approached by people to swap, and we've told them where to go.'

But she said she had noticed people were more cautious, noting: 'I think that since last year we've had more people saying 'please don't pass my details on'.'