Our regulatory remit and how we assess complaints

By Catherine Orr, Head of Casework at the Fundraising Regulator

As Head of Casework, I oversee a small team made up of a case manager, four case officers and a casework assistant. Together we assess, handle and respond to all incoming complaints to the Fundraising Regulator. The first thing my team does when someone gets in touch, is to assess whether a complaint is in our regulatory remit. This process can be complex as we consider whether the activity is covered by the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) – the UK’s charitable fundraising standards – and whether we are the best placed organisation to help.

My team has always assessed whether a complaint is in remit. Over the past few years we’ve focused on giving complainants an answer on this point as effectively and efficiently as possible, as our volume of casework increases and public awareness of us grows. Through appropriate signposting, we aim to save complainants, ourselves and fundraising organisations time and effort in the long run. We also use the intelligence collected to gain a greater knowledge of public concerns and develop information to improve public understanding.

Complaints assessment is incredibly important, but much of this goes on behind the scenes. Simpler cases could involve conversations together at our regular casework meetings or input from other colleagues, such as our policy team. More complex cases could involve a need for legal advice or input from our Complaints and Investigations Committee. So, here’s a quick overview of the types of questions we ask, to help you to understand some of the complexities.

Is it personal cause fundraising?

The first thing to check, is whether the fundraising is for a single individual or a specific family. Examples could include raising money to pay for someone’s medical treatment or other personal expenses. This often takes place online, using crowdfunding sites. We call this type of fundraising ‘personal cause’ fundraising as it is for ‘personal benefit’ – the benefit of a single person or a small group. The code covers fundraising for ‘charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purposes’. It does not cover fundraising for personal causes, so concerns about this are therefore not in our remit. 

Though most personal cause fundraising is well intentioned you should be aware of the risk of fraud, especially when giving to strangers. We often signpost people with concerns about personal cause fundraising to contact the online platform, the police or Action Fraud. Our tips for giving safely to charity provides more advice.

Is it charitable, philanthropic or benevolent?

Many people are familiar with ‘registered charities’ which are identified by a charity registration number. However, not all charitable organisations have to be registered with the Charity Commissions in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, or the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). There are many other types of legal structures that could be used to set up an organisation that could carry out charitable fundraising.

We will work out if an organisation has been set up for the public benefit and charitable, philanthropic or benevolent purposes (these are purposes which are not strictly charitable by law but are charitable in nature). These types of organisations are covered by the code – others, are not. This part of our assessment can be complex and occasionally require legal advice.

Is it reasonable for the organisation to be held liable?

A fundraiser could be a member of staff directly employed by a charity, a volunteer that is not paid by the charity, or a person working for an external company that a charity has authorised to fundraise on its behalf. All of these are legitimate ways to fundraise and a member of the public may not realise which type of fundraiser they are interacting with.

When a charity has instructed (asked or directed) a volunteer to fundraise this is known as ‘on behalf of’ fundraising. The charity will be responsible for the volunteer’s activity and making sure they meet the fundraising standards in the code. 

However, when someone has not been instructed to fundraise by the charity, and is doing it on their own initiative this is known as ‘in aid of’ fundraising. ‘In aid of’ fundraisers will be responsible for all aspects of their fundraising activity. It will therefore not be reasonable for the charity to be held responsible for any breaches of the code. Our recently updated volunteer topics page explains the differences in more detail.

Requesting help through appropriate channels

As you can see, charitable fundraising can be complex. My team needs to use all their skills, technical knowledge and experience when assessing a complaint to work out whether it is in our remit. To provide the best possible service, we need appropriate information and evidence from complainants. Tagging us in allegations posted on social media, for example, is unlikely to provide us with enough information. This is why we ask people to get in touch using our online form so we can gather everything we need. 

My team is working on proposals to make our complaints processes easier to understand and more accessible. We plan to update our website later this year with these improvements. In the meanwhile, if you do have concerns about fundraising but are unsure whether we will be able to help you, do get in touch with us for a chat. We will either signpost to another organisation that may be able to help or explain the type of evidence we may need to further assess the situation.