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Commission probing Hospitals Charity after ‘serious’ fundraising breaches

22 Nov 2023 News

Charity Commission building and logo

Civil Society Media

A health charity is being investigated by the Charity Commission after being found in breach of fundraising standards.

The Fundraising Regulator published a report this month into Hospitals Charity, in which it said the charity had disobeyed its rules on using donations, informing donors and working with third-party fundraisers.

It investigated 10 complaints from members of the public, donors, representatives of NHS trusts and others in positions linked to the NHS regarding the charity’s fundraising activity in 2021.

The Fundraising Regulator said it had “found several serious breaches” of its Code of Fundraising Practice. 

“Hospitals Charity has not acknowledged these or demonstrated what actions it will take to comply with the code,” its report reads.

“We have reported its non-compliance to the Charity Commission for England and Wales.”

The Commission said it opened a compliance case into the charity in November 2022 after concerns were raised with it.

Hospitals Charity has not yet responded to Civil Society’s requests for comment.

The charity, which was set up in 2019, paid £22,240 to regional hospitals in the three years to August 2022 while its income in this time was £223,000, according to accounts filed with the Commission.

Code breaches

The Fundraising Regulator reported that the charity failed to ensure funds it raised for a particular purpose were used specifically for that cause.

Hospitals Charity told donors that all funds would benefit their local hospital but the Regulator reported that it could not find any evidence that the charity had set aside funds for any specific hospital, or recorded which donations were for which hospital.

“We found that the charity’s statements about providing equipment and beds for critical care units were misleading,” its report reads.

“We were advised by NHS England that the nature of NHS funding means it is not possible for outside donations to pay for these.”

The Regulator reported that the charity had breached its code by making misleading statements that prevented donors from being able to make an informed decision.

It said later statements by Hospitals Charity that donations would go to hospitals “in your region” were misleading.

Online donors were unable to specify their region, the Regulator found, and the charity failed to explain to donors what was considered “their” region and provided no evidence of how it allocated funds.

“We did not see any evidence that the hospitals received the donations,” it reported.

The Regulator said it saw evidence that the charity used fundraising materials that suggested a direct working relationship between itself and the NHS and its charity partner, NHS Charities Together. 

“These organisations have made it clear to us that this is not the case. At least one NHS trust has refused donations from Hospitals Charity. The charity removed the NHS logo from its website,” the report reads.

“However, we have seen evidence that the charity continued to use similar materials in its face-to-face fundraising.”

A spokesperson at NHS Charities Together, said: “The Hospitals Charity is an independent organisation that is not part of the NHS charities network or linked to a particular NHS trust or health board.”

The Regulator reported that a third-party agency instructed fundraisers to incorrectly tell potential donors that “all of your donation goes to Hospitals Charity”, when around 69p did.

“We found the charity had breached the code requirements around adequately training third-party fundraisers and giving solicitation statements,” it said.

Recommendations

The Regulator asked Hospitals Charity to update its website and fundraising materials to ensure it is not misleading donors.

It made several other recommendations including to:

  • Consider whether to refund two donations intended for specific hospitals which were not passed on, and notify us of the trustees’ decision and reasoning.
  • Have Memoranda of Understanding with any NHS hospitals or trusts it wishes to pass donations onto.
  • Update the solicitation statement to include how its agent’s fee is calculated. 
  • Explain to us how it intends to develop an improved system of complaint handling which comprehensively records complaints and implements learning. 
  • Show us how it will manage its restricted funds, both for in-person donations and online donations.

A Commission spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that we have an ongoing compliance case examining concerns about Hospitals Charity, including in relation to trustees’ oversight of the charity’s fundraising.

“We have liaised with the Fundraising Regulator about these matters and are aware of the FR’s report.”

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