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Alzheimer’s Society and REAL Fundraising: September 2019

Name of organisation/s: Alzheimer’s Society, a health charity, and REAL Fundraising, an agency

Fundraising method: Direct Debit collections 

Code themes: Complaints handling and treating donors fairly

Code breach?

  • Alzheimer’s Society: No
  • REAL Fundraising: No 

The complaint 

The complainant told us that in early 2017 they were approached by a street fundraiser working for REAL Fundraising (the agency) on behalf of Alzheimer’s Society (the charity). The complainant said that they provided their details to the fundraiser so that the charity could call them at a later date to discuss and agree on a donation amount.

The complainant told us that the fundraiser assured them that no money would be taken without their permission. Subsequently, in 2019, the complainant noticed that a monthly donation had been taken from their account for many months previous. 

What happened?

In January 2019, the complainant contacted the charity as they had noticed that since May 2017 the charity had been collecting a monthly Direct Debit from their bank account without permission. They told us that they had received no correspondence to alert them to the fact that they were being debited. The complainant asked the charity to check its records and requested all payments were refunded.

A welcome letter had been sent to the complainant to confirm that a Direct Debit had been set up, but the complainant did not receive the letter. The agency had made several welcome call attempts, so the charity was satisfied that it had made efforts to contact the complainant.

Alzheimer’s Society said that as it had no reason to believe that the Direct Debit was set up in error, it had no grounds to refund the complainant’s donations. 

Our decision

Due to Alzheimer’s Society’s and REAL fundraising’s data retention policy they were unable to provide us with the copy of the complainant’s electronically signed Direct Debit Agreement. However, the agency provided us with evidence of its training and mystery shopping results for the fundraiser in question, as well as copies of its electronic sign-up screens.  

We found that the fundraiser in question would not have been able to obtain the information needed to authorise a Direct Debit without the complainant signing the charity’s electronic sign-up screens. We have seen that the text provided on the electronic screens would have made the complainant aware that they were agreeing to a monthly commitment. The charity and the agency also took reasonable steps after signing up the complainant to contact them via telephone and letter to inform them that a Direct Debit had been set up. On this basis, we found that the charity did not breach the sections of the code that relate to treating donors fairly.

The charity responded promptly to the complainant and provided clear updates. However, we note on receipt of the complaint the charity did not ask the complainant if they would like their Direct Debit cancelled. The charity told us that it did not cancel the Direct Debit as it did not consider that on conclusion of their investigation it had received clear instructions from the complainant to do so.  

We would have hoped that on receipt of the complainant’s concerns, or at the very least on conclusion of its investigation, the charity would have asked if the complainant wanted their Direct Debit to be cancelled. However, we note that the charity has subsequently refunded all payments taken from the date it issued its final response. Taking everything into account we have found that the charity investigated and responded to the points raised within the initial complaint appropriately and did not breach the complaints section of the code. 

Recommendations 

We concluded that the charity and the agency had appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that their sign-up process was fair to the donor. We also found that the charity appropriately investigated and responded to the complaint. 

Outcome

As we did not find a breach of the code we made no recommendations for the charity.