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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Fundraising call centre under fire for pressure tactics

This news post is about 9 years old

Oxfam has suspended its work with Listen Ltd and its street-fundraising partner Street Academy following allegations in a Sunday newspaper

UK charity Oxfam has denied that fundraisers working for it target 98-year-olds following allegations about pressure tactics used by call-centre fundraising firm Listen Ltd in a Sunday newspaper.

The charity has suspsended its work with the company and Shelter-run Street Academy, which does face-to-face street fundraising, following suggestions that call centre staff are encouraged to target 98-year-olds and put pressure on people who claim to not be able to afford donations.

The Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) has also released a statement saying it is "deeply concerned" about the allegations, which were outlined in the Mail on Sunday, which sent an undercover reporter to be trained within a Listen Ltd call centre.

Responding to the story, Tim Hunter, Oxfam's director of fundraising, said: "Our supporters' generosity is the life-blood of our organisation and we thank the Mail on Sunday for bringing these allegations to our attention. However, the headline in the Mail on Sunday claiming that we target 98-year-olds is factually incorrect. It is against our policy to target vulnerable people.

We are deeply concerned about the allegations that the Mail on Sunday has made. It is critical that fundraisers treat the public with respect, openness and honesty at all times - Alistair McLean, FRSB

"We take these allegations very seriously and have suspended all operations with both Listen Ltd and Street Academy, pending a thorough investigation.

"Oxfam carries out regular quality checks of fundraising calls on our behalf and insists on high standards of training and monitoring.

"For every £1 we spend, 9p is invested to raise more life-saving funds and the support we receive from the public is crucial to our work. If anyone has any complaints about the activities, I urge them to contact us at [email protected]"

The story comes just weeks after the death of 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke, who had been innundated with fundraising requests by mail and phone. Her family has, however, denied that charity fundraising had anything to do with her death.

An undercover reporter has said he was put under pressure to target elderly, sick and vulernable people for fundraising calls after their numbers were harvested by on-street fundraisers working for Street Academy, who persuaded them into text donations.

Responding to the Mail on Sunday article, Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said: “We are deeply concerned about the allegations that the Mail on Sunday has made. It is critical that fundraisers treat the public with respect, openness and honesty at all times.

“The FRSB will investigate these claims to establish whether any breach of fundraising standards has taken place.”

The FRSB regulates charity fundraising practices against the standards set out in the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice. The regulatory bodies, also including the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, have already announced a review of the fundraising code of practice following the death of Mrs Cooke.

Other charities currently using Listen Ltd include the RSPCA and Cancer Research UK.

A statement on the fundraising firm's website reads: "We pride ourselves on our reputation for integrity and raising significant sums of money for good causes in an ethical way.

"Listen takes its responsibilities very seriously, and strives to operate to the highest professional standards. We are now fully investigating the allegations made."

Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said: "We take any accusation of bad practise among street fundraisers employed by Street Academy seriously and undertake regular mystery shopping to make sure they adhere to our strict code of practice and that of the Institute of Fundraising."