Age UK has been criticised in The Sunday Telegraph over its relationship with a financial services company, but the charity suggested the article was unfair.
It told Civil Society News that it was “disappointed” by the coverage, which related to an incident in 2012, and claimed that some of the details in the story were “incorrect.”
Age UK has referred itself to the Charity Commission following the latest scrutiny of its relationship with a private company. The charity says this was because it expected the negative coverage in the Telegraph and is in line with the regulator’s guidance.
According to The Sunday Telegraph’s report, the company faced a complaint in 2012 from a couple who felt they had been misled about the connection between the charity and an equity advisor from Hub Financial who visited them at their home.
Hub Financial, which has worked with Age UK’s commercial arm for just over seven years, advises people on releasing equity from their homes. It previously operated under the name Just Retirement Solutions.
Accounts of phone calls between the company and the couple show that they were told the service would be provided by “the Age UK Equity Release Advice Service provided by Just Retirement Solutions.” When they asked “And is this Age UK?”, the couple were told that the advisor would have Age UK identification when he visited.
The company later confirmed that their advisors did not have any connection with the charity and would never carry Age UK ID, and that the call handler had been mistaken, the paper said.
The couple eventually took out a £300,000 loan against the value of their home. They told The Sunday Telegraph: “We would never have taken the loan out in the first place. We feel really, really bad. We thought it was organised by Age UK. It made us feel very safe.”
Age UK has clarified its relationship with commercial providers in recent years, after the Charity Commission issued the charity with a warning about the “significant risk” posed by its tie-ups with private energy companies. Its commercial arm was rebranded as Age Co last year.
A spokesperson for Age UK told Civil Society: “We were disappointed that the Sunday Telegraph decided to publish this story about a product called the Age Co Equity Release Advice Service, which is offered by Age UK Enterprises under the Age Co brand and provided by Hub Financial Solutions.
“The story concerned a complaint from an individual which had been thoroughly investigated and not upheld. It was also alleged in the piece that Hub representatives wear Age UK badges; this was incorrect.
“The story further implied that the fact Age UK had submitted a Serious Incident Report (SIR) about the matter indicated some sense of wrong doing whereas in fact, Charity Commission guidance indicates that the mere fact a critical newspaper article is anticipated in and of itself triggers the need to put in a SIR, which is why the charity submitted one on this occasion."
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We are aware of concerns regarding Age UK’s relationship with Hub Financial. The charity reported this matter to us in line with our guidance on reporting serious incidents. We are currently assessing information, and will be engaging with the charity to seek further information about how this relationship is managed.
“Charities hold important positions of trust and so it is vital that any relationships with non-charitable organisations are clear to those a charity is set up to help. The public rightly expect charities to be driven only by their charitable mission and purpose in everything they do. New guidance from the Commission makes clear that trustees should work to defend and promote their independence from non-charitable organisations at all times.”
The Commission also stressed that failure to comply with regulatory advice is taken extremely seriously.
Hub Financial was contacted for comment.