Helpline lets UK charities off the hook

Poppy seller Olive Cooke had been on the hit lists of 99 charities before her death. Photograph: SWNS

Poppy seller Olive Cooke had been on the hit lists of 99 charities before her death. Photograph: SWNS

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A new helpline set up to help protect against aggressive fundraising tactics will handle only a small number of complaints made against charities by members of the public north of the border, it has emerged.

The telephone service, which allows people to complain if they are concerned about a charity’s fundraising practices, will only cover charities which are headquartered in Scotland – and not the 1,167 UK-wide organisations which also operate north of the border, including some of the UK’s biggest charitable organisations, such as Cancer Research UK, Save the Children and Oxfam.

Scotland’s charity sector regulation has recently seen a major overhaul, a year after the death of 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke in Bristol, which saw charities scrutinised after it was claimed she was plagued by demands from direct mailings and telephone fundraising calls.

In practice, it is the larger, UK-based charities that are more likely to come into contact with members of the public due to larger fundraising events and collections and a bigger marketing budget, while Scottish charities raise a large proportion of money through smaller events and private grants, making them less likely to become targets of public complaints.

UK-wide charities account for £650 million of funds raised in Scotland – almost 45 per cent – despite making up only five per cent of the 24,051 individual charities operating in Scotland, according to figures provided by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). In comparison, the 22,884 separate Scottish charities – many of which will have little contact with the general public, raising funds through grants and trusts – raise slightly more at £850 million.

The new Scottish complaints line was launched this week in a bid to improve public trust in the charity sector, just days after the formation of a Scottish independent fundraising panel, comprising members of the public, donors, fundraisers, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Scottish Government, following recommendations made by the Fundraising Working Group in Scotland.

John Downie, director of public affairs at the SCVO, admitted to Scotland on Sunday that it does “not anticipate a large volume of complaints” to be handled by the new Scottish call centre. Figures from the Fundraising Standard Board, which has this week been replaced by the Fundraising Regulator in England and Wales, show that last year, there was a total of 66,814 complaints about charities recorded UK-wide.

Meanwhile, Emma Greenwood, head of policy development for Cancer Research UK, Britain’s biggest charity, warned that she believed a “UK-wide approach to regulation is needed so that the system is clear and understandable to the public”.

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