The Fundraising Regulator has confirmed it is launching an investigation into a PFRA member fundraising agency, after The Sun claimed its fundraisers deliberately targeted vulnerable people and took drugs while working.
The Fundraising Regulator has confirmed that it will be investigating the allegations made against Neet Feet – a face-to-face fundraising agency and an existing member of the Public Fundraising Association – after a number of allegations of impropriety were made in The Sun.
A spokesman for the Fundraising Regulator – which only officially launched at an event in London last Thursday – said that the regulator would immediately investigate The Sun’s allegations to establish “the facts”.
"The new Fundraising Regulator was launched to investigate allegations of fundraising practices which breach the professional code, in order to protect donors across the UK from the distress this can cause. We are investigating this matter with the charities in question to establish the facts."
The Charity Commission said that the allegations are “deeply concerning” and pledged to “support” the regulator with its investigation.
David Holdsworth, chief operating officer at the Charity Commission, said: "These allegations are deeply concerning. The Commission has made it clear that charities need to ensure that the behaviour of professional fundraisers acting on their behalf is of the highest ethical standards.
“Charities rely on the generous public to support their important causes but this type of behaviour by a minority is damaging to all. Some progress has been made in recent months but clearly there is more work to be done.
“These are exactly the issues that the new Fundraising Regulator has been set up to address and we would encourage and support them to take the appropriate steps."
The Sun’s allegations
In the piece, a Sun investigative reporter “spent a month” working at the Bristol offices of Neet Feet. In that time the reporter allegedly uncovered evidence of the organisation’s fundraisers using aggressive fundraising tactics, of deliberately targeting both the elderly as well as those technically too young to sign up and targeting the “poor and uneducated” on low income council estates.
The Sun also alleged that Neet Feet fundraisers used illicit drugs during shifts and that at least one employee in its Bristol office claimed to be “a big time drug dealer in Bristol” and told colleagues he was jailed for “cutting a man’s throat on Christmas Day 2009”.
The article also alleged that Neet Feet fundraisers “were also filmed bragging about shoplifting from Tesco while on shift” and of lying to donors, in order to “build up a rapport with them”.
The Sun claims that senior fundraisers at Neet Feet referred to various tactics known as “squashing” and “boxing them in” when referring to signing up new donors on the street. Fundraisers also apparently “falsely claimed that they work directly for the charity rather than an agency”.
Neet Feet head office is currently registered to North London, according to Companies House. According to its last set of total exemption small company accounts, filed on 31 January 2015, it had current assets at the time of £188,331.
It was incorporated on 25 January 2013 in Bristol by Sam Bisgrove and Jeremy O’Neill. O’Neil is also listed as being the director of Ta Da! Media; while Bisgrove is listed as being a senior consultant with Proactive People Ltd, an IT recruitment company.
Neet Feet’s website claims that the organisation is “The Happiness Machine” and is “Powered by Love and Groove”.
According to The Sun, the organisation say they “employ former criminals” as street fundraisers to “give them a second chance in life”.
Alongside door-to-door fundraising, Neet Feet also does private site fundraising and recruits for telephone fundraising.
Neet Feet response
Neet Feet have given a statement. It is produced below in full:
“The directors of Neet Feet are sorry for any distress which has been caused following these allegations.
“We have launched an immediate investigation and can reassure the many charities who we work with that this matter only involves a small number of employees.
“Neet Feet was founded three and a half years ago and aims to give people a second chance in life and currently employs 130 people.
“The directors are proud of the company’s record and were unaware of the practices highlighted by the report.
“We work to the highest ethical standards and look forward to working closely with the Funding Regulator and the Charity Commission to establish the facts and see where lessons can be learned.”
Charities cease working with Neet Feet
The Sun has named a number of large charities who were using Neet Feet’s services at the time of the investigation; including Action for Children, Save the Children and Unicef UK. All the charities named in the article have ceased working with Neet Feet.
Mike Flynn, director of individual giving at Unicef UK, said: “In light of the recent allegations of poor practice at Neet Feet we have suspended all our operations with the company whilst these allegations are looked into further.
“We expect the highest standards from fundraising agencies and take decisive action if these standards are not met, regardless of whether it is Unicef UK or another charity that is directly involved. Neet Feet is one of several fundraising companies Unicef UK has been working with.
"We have been working with them in a very limited capacity since October 2015 but we do not use Neet Feet for door to door fundraising and have never worked with the Neet Feet Bristol office.”
A spokesman for Save the Children said:"Neet Feet has signed up 3,698 supporters for Save the Children since it started fundraising for the charity in shopping centres and railway stations last August.
"Save the Children thanked The Sun and said it was immediately terminating its contract with Neet feet."
Emma Sambrook, director of fundraising at Hft, said: “We are deeply disappointed to hear about the allegations of unethical fundraising made against Neet Feet.
"We take any allegations of fundraising malpractice very seriously and have immediately suspended the contract with this company while a full and thorough investigation is carried out.
“Hft are members of several fundraising regulatory bodies and are committed to having robust procedures in place. We expect any agency we work with to meet our high standards and where these are not met immediate action will be taken as a matter of urgency.”
A spokesman for Action for Children: “Unscrupulous fundraising practices are completely unacceptable.
"The charity works to the highest standards and has procedures and monitoring in place to help ensure fundraisers are operating within legal and ethical frameworks.
"Any concerns highlighted to us will be investigated thoroughly.”
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said: "We condemn the alleged activity exposed by the Sun. Behaviour like this has no place in charity fundraising and does not reflect the values and practices of the overwhelming majority of the fundraising community.
“The new, stronger Fundraising Regulator will be looking into this case and we will fully support their work to examine and stamp out bad practice where it occurs."
A spokesman from the PFRA condemned the behaviour and said that "the practices exposed in the media today have no place in charity fundraising".