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New regulator for charity fundraising sector urged

Published 23/09/2015

The review was set up amid widespread public concern over the death of 92-year-old Olive Cooke, one of Britain's oldest and longest-serving poppy sellers
The review was set up amid widespread public concern over the death of 92-year-old Olive Cooke, one of Britain's oldest and longest-serving poppy sellers

A tough new regulator is needed to ensure charity fundraisers do not overstep the mark in pressing the public for donations, a Government-commissioned review has found.

The cross-party review said the existing system of self-regulation had failed and called for the creation of a new watchdog accountable to Parliament.

However it stopped short of recommending the state regulation of charitable fundraising saying that it would cause as many problems as it solved.

The review - headed by the chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Sir Stuart Etherington - was set up amid widespread public concern over the death of 92-year-old Olive Cooke, one of Britain's oldest and longest-serving poppy sellers.

After she took her own life earlier this year, her family described how she had been receiving repeated requests from charities for donations with up to 267 letters a month as well as regular phone calls.

In its report, the review concluded the existing regulatory system - based around the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) - was "no longer fit for purpose" and had lost the confidence of both the public and the fundraising organisations.

It said it should be replaced by a new body - the Fundraising Regulator - with powers to mount investigations and a wide range of sanctions including naming and shaming, "cease and desist" orders and compulsory training.

The organisation's first chair would be appointed by a Government minister and it would be required to make an annual report to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

It would be financed by imposing a levy on charities spending more than £100,000-a-year on fund-raising.

The review also called for the creation of a new "fundraising preference service" enabling people to opt out of receiving fundraising letters and phone calls from multiple charities without having to contact each one individually.

The report said the changes were designed to establish a better balance between "the public's right to be left alone and the charities' right to ask" for donations.

"Some of the techniques used, or the manner in which they have been used, present a clear risk of damaging charities in the public eye," it said.

"Despite this, we are clear that charities and those working within them have the best intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions are not always enough to avoid bad outcomes."

Sir Stuart said the current system had failed to prevent "serious breaches of trust and widespread dissatisfaction" and there was now a "pressing need" to restore public confidence.

"We seem to have found ourselves in a position where charities didn't think hard enough about what it was like to be on the receiving end of some of their fundraising methods," he said.

"They thought too much about the ends and not enough about the means. This has been a clear wake-up call and now is the time to tighten the standards."

Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson said the report was an "important contribution" and that he would consider the recommendations fully before responding to its findings.

"The recommendations represent a new approach to fundraising self-regulation. Charities need to work together to make sure vulnerable people are protected," he said.

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