The Canal & River Trust has halved its face-to-face fundraising team, and given those who lost their jobs no notice or severance pay.
A group of about 20 face-to-face fundraisers were told they were no longer needed via a phone call at the end of August, after the employer contributions needed to support them through the government’s furlough scheme increased.
Canal & River Trust maintains that the fundraisers were formally employed through an agency, Inspired People. According to the agency and the charity, the fundraisers held the status of “agency workers”, which means they are not entitled to redundancy pay.
However, some of the fundraisers had been raising money for the charity for more than two years. They argue that they hardly ever had contact with the agency and that they were always treated like part of the charity’s workforce.
The fundraisers have been asking the charity to reconsider its decision to let them go without redundancy arrangements.
The charity's face-to-face fundraising programme was suspended at the start of the pandemic. Canal & River Trust has now brought it back on a smaller scale because of the ongoing social distancing limitations. The other half of the team returned to work on 16 September.
Treated like employees
Chaz Lockett, formerly a team lead of the charity’s towpath fundraisers and one of the people who has been let go, wrote a letter to the charity’s chief executive, Richard Parry.
In the letter, seen by Civil Society News, he said the charity’s decision was “frankly shocking”.
He wrote: “I was, up until a few minutes ago, a passionate fundraiser for Canal & River Trust of almost three years' service, but I have just been informed by Inspired People that I have not been selected to return to work.”
The fundraisers who lost their jobs worked exclusively for the Trust, gave their availability and reported their hours and expenses to the charity’s staff rather than the agency. At least one of them received an employee discount on their boat licence from the Trust.
However the fundraisers had never signed a contract with the charity. The agency, Inspired People, argues that they were sent a copy of their “terms and conditions” when they registered on their website. Inspired People, and not the Canal & River Trust, appears on their payslips.
‘If people ever saw someone from Canal & River Trust, it would have been us’
The agency and the charity did not disclose the criteria according to which some people were asked to return to work and others were let go.
Lockett said he had expressed concerns about the viability and safety of going back to face-to-face fundraising during the pandemic in a survey the charity sent out, but never heard back until he was told he was no longer needed.
Lockett also wrote to the Canal & River Trust’s council on behalf of the group of fundraisers, saying: “All we ask is for a proper, transparent, negotiated severance, as should have been undertaken from the beginning, and as we are owed under employment law.”
He said he is especially disappointed as the face-to-face fundraisers have strong ties with the communities living on the canals.
Lockett said: “If people ever saw someone from Canal & River Trust, it would have been us – standing in the towpaths, sometimes in the pouring rain, with a big smile on our faces and our Canal & River Trust jackets, telling everyone how great the charity was.
“We're their responsibility and they have to live up to their stated values and negotiate a just settlement in good faith.”
‘The Trust has tried to be as supportive as we can’
Canal & River Trust said in a statement: “The Trust reactivated our face-to-face towpath fundraising programme on Wednesday 16 September. Like many other charities, this continues to be delivered with the help of agency workers assigned to us through a specialist fundraising agency, Inspired People.
“Safety is the priority and, given the ongoing limitations of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trust’s face-to-face programme is currently on a smaller scale than before, with 20 fundraisers assigned to the Trust from Inspired People. This is around half of the total number of agency workers assigned to the Trust through Inspired People prior to the pandemic.
“The programme is focusing on areas where social distancing and footfall are conducive to face-to-face fundraising in a coronavirus secure manner. The Trust, in conjunction with Inspired People, has ensured that all the fundraisers are fully briefed on new working practices and protocols around coronavirus.
“With face-to-face fundraising having been on hold due to coronavirus these past six months, the Trust has tried to be as supportive as we can for those agency workers directly affected by encouraging Inspired People to participate in the government funded furlough scheme.
“Where this has not been possible, particularly with the increase in contributions required from 1st September 2020, we understand that those agency workers not assigned to the Trust by Inspired People would be redeployed to help raise funds for other charities who Inspired People assign agency workers to. We very much hope that has been possible for all those concerned.”
Inspired People: ‘Obviously disappointed’
James Wheatcroft, director at Inspired People, said: “Inspired People is a specialist recruitment agency and is proud to work with a number of leading charities, providing work for thousands of fundraising staff every year.
“We are a member of the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC). Every year, Inspired People takes part in a REC audit, reinforcing its commitment to high standards sand legal and ethical business practices.
“We are aware that a number of fundraisers were informed by the Canal & River Trust that they were not required on their assignments at the end of August. We were obviously disappointed on behalf of our candidates to hear that the Canal & River Trust had made this decision.
“As a temporary recruitment agency, all of our candidates are classified as having ‘worker’ status by HMRC, meaning they are neither employed by us, or our client, in this case the Canal & River Trust. This is also outlined in the terms and conditions that all candidates are sent on registering with Inspired People.
“We understand that we are all working in challenging times, and we are committed to supporting affected candidates to help secure them future assignments where we can."