Neil Coyle, the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, has written to JustGiving demanding it returns £500,000 to people who have paid fees on donations and officially apologises.
Coyle’s letter, dated 16 October 2018 and addressed to chief executive of JustGiving and president of Blackbaud Jerry Needel, welcomed the announcement last week that it had dropped certain fees across its crowdfunding platform, and on appeal pages set up in the event of a terrorist attack or major disaster.
However in the letter, which was shared with Civil Society News by his office, Coyle said he was disappointed “to have been sent ill-informed representatives” to a recent meeting with the platform on the issue. Civil Society News understands Coyle was also angered by the way JustGiving’s representatives handled themselves in the meeting, which took place at the beginning of July.
Coyle finishes his letter by calling for another meeting with the fundraising platform to “discuss how the money taken last year could be returned and whether JustGiving will now apologise for this horrendous breach of faith”.
He has been especially vocal on the subject since the terrorist attack in London Bridge last year, which took place in his constituency.
In the summer he brought an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill during the Bill Committee reading, proposing that "organisations that provide services for the purposes of raising donations shall not be entitled to profit from those services" in the event of an attack, although the amendment failed.
He also wrote to Tracey Crouch, the minister for civil society, in September calling platforms charging fees on Gift Aid a "disgrace".
A spokeswoman from Coyle’s office said that JustGiving has yet to respond to the most recent letter, or to requests for another meeting to discuss its contents.
Coyle has spoken to GoFundMe
The spokeswoman did confirm however that Coyle had recently had a phone call with rival giving platform GoFundMe about its approach to platform and Gift Aid fees.
GoFundMe announced that it had dropped all platform fees, barring card processing charges, in January of this year. The US-based company, which launched in the UK in 2017, has since bought its own charity giving platform to market in the UK in a direct attempt to compete with JustGiving.
John Coventry, head of communications at the platform, told Civil Society News that it had “sent a briefing to a handful of MPs”. He declined to share the names of members.
A spokesperson for JustGiving declined to comment on the story, although he did confirm that Needel is currently splitting his time between Blackbaud’s offices in the US, and JustGiving’s London offices.
He has been doing so since JustGiving's previous chief executive, Neil Bannister, stood down from the company following an accusation of sexual harrassment earlier in the year.
IoF and CTG lobby government ahead of budget
This flurry of activity in the fundraising platform sector has been prompted by growing calls on both sides of parliament for the Treasury to look into ways of closing the loophole that allows fundraising platforms to charge fees on Gift Aid at the next Budget.
Robert Jenrick, Conservative MP for Newark and the Treasury minister, told The Sun in June that he wanted to stop digital fundraising platforms from taking commission from Gift Aid, and said he had “instructed HM Revenues & Customs to prepare steps to bring this to an end if required” in the Budget.
The Fundraising Regulator has also been keeping a close eye on developments. Its new chief executive Gerald Oppenheim told Civil Society News that “if the Treasury does change the law, of course we’ll amend the Code of Fundraising Practice” to prohibit platforms from charging fees on Gift Aid.
Both the Institute of Fundraising and Charity Tax Group have addressed the Gift Aid fees model in their pre-Budget submissions.
Both organisations were approached by JustGiving to welcome its announcement on changing its fees, and Civil Society News understands that both have been working behind the scenes with government on the issue of platform fees more generally.
Daniel Fluskey, director of policy and external affairs at the IoF, said: “We want to avoid a policy which aims to protect Gift Aid, or impose a way of working for platforms, that might be well intended but could lead to disrupting the relationships between charities and platforms, or result in higher charges elsewhere”.
He also said the IoF had suggested the government establish a working group on the issue to help "review and think through potential options".
CTG has called on the government to consider facilitating “discussions between charities and fundraising platforms about improving the transparency and equity of fees when Gift Aid is claimed on donations collected by intermediaries, particularly in relation to emergency and disaster appeals”.
The Autumn Budget is due to be delivered by Chancellor Philip Hammond next Monday.