Age Concern charities criticise Age UK over commercial deals

09 Feb 2016 News

Heads of independent Age Concern charities have said that they chose not to merge with Age UK over fears about its commercial relationships.

Heads of independent Age Concern charities have said that they chose not to merge with Age UK over fears about its commercial relationships.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today show, Steve Dase, chief executive of Age Concern Exmouth, and Barry Duke, vice-chair of Age Concern in Devon, said that they had concerns over the ethical implications of selling commercial products at older people. This led to them choosing not to take part in the merger between Age UK and independent Age Concerns in 2010.

Dase said on the show: “There was something like 150 to 160 other Age Concerns across the country that chose not to partner with Age UK at the time. I would guess many of them felt the same way that we did.

“There was implications that any commercial tie-ups would be products that could only be dealt with by Age Concern and Age UK enterprises - something which we felt wasn’t quite ethical to our smaller local charity. We work at the coal face and we had considered that Age UK would be going down the route of selling products.”

He said it was implied that if he joined Age UK a portfolio of products would be promoted as part of the agreement.
Duke also decided against taking part in the merger.

He said: “The commission deals with the utility business, or those that offer to supply for example a personal alarm or financial product can, in our opinion, compromise a charity’s impartiality – especially when working with older people. Age UK made us a contractual offer that required the transfer of our clients’ details.

“It implied a perceived loss off independence as a charity, and didn’t offer suitable margins of income to cover our costs. I’m only surprised that a greater interest has not been taken before, and I hope that Age UK will publically ensure that all older people, like myself, that after six years are still a brand to be trusted.”

Also speaking on the show was Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC. He said that commercial relationships “won’t be for everyone”, but “in principle I don’t see anything particularly wrong. And what a charity has got to do is help a charity on its mission and its beneficiary group.”

This comes days after the charity came under attack over services it offered to elderly beneficiaries, including energy deals, insurance and equity release.  Age UK chose not comment on the Today show, but have strongly rejected allegations that it encouraged its beneficiaries to sign up for expensive energy tariffs in return for donations of £6m a year from the energy company E.ON. 

History of merger concerns

At the time of the merger, many Age Concern charities refused to sign up with the new brand over concerns over commercial freedom. They also highlighted concerns over the way the merger had been presented, suggesting it was done in a way that implied that all Age Concerns had already joined Age UK. 

An Age UK spokeswoman said: "There were over 320 local Age Concerns across England and we always estimated that roughly half would choose to become local Age UKs and about half would choose to become a Friend of Age UK. The vast majority did so – today we have 164 local Age UKs and 146 Friends.

"In 2011 nine Age Concerns chose not to become a Brand Partner or a Friend, partly because they wanted to form their own breakaway trading venture. Of the nine Age Concerns that initially chose not to partner with Age UK, three have now become local Age UKs.” 

This story was updated on 10/02/2015 to include a comment from Age UK.