Breast Cancer Now & APPCO UK: May 2024

Name and type of organisation: Breast Cancer Now (registered charity no. 1160558) and its agency APPCO UK Ltd

Fundraising method:  Collections, door-to-door (Private site)

Code themes examined:  No cold calling sign, vulnerable circumstances, third-party fundraisers, complaint handling.

Code breach? Yes 

The complaint 

The complainant told us that she was unhappy about her husband being signed up on their doorstep to make a regular gift to Breast Cancer Now (BCN). The complainant explained that her husband was vulnerable and did not have capacity to provide the authorisation needed to sign up to the donations. The complainant was not satisfied with the response received from the charity and asked us to investigate the matter.

What happened

The complainant discovered the donations were being taken from hers and her husband’s joint account when checking bank statements. Noting that the donations went back several months, she contacted the charity to enquire about them.  The complainant explained her husband’s circumstances to the charity, and that they had a “No cold calling” sign in place. Once it was established that BCN had signed up the complainant’s husband to make a regular gift by Direct Debit, the charity cancelled this and refunded the complainant for the donations already taken. 

BCN also discovered that a system error had resulted in the complainant’s husband not being sent an advance notification letter after he was signed up to donate to tell him that the donations would begin coming out of his bank account. They acknowledged that this mistake meant that the complainant did not discover the donations were being taken sooner.  Because of the circumstances of the complainant’s husband, the complainant believed that the fundraiser in question had likely entered their property in order to assist her husband in getting their financial details. The complainant explained to the charity that her husband had no knowledge of these details, or which bank they used, and therefore did not think that he could have been signed up otherwise. BCN was unable to confirm what had happened as the fundraiser who had signed up her husband to make the regular donation was no longer with the company. 

The complainant also could not be sure that the sign on her door was in place at the time her husband was signed up to make the donations, so the charity could not say with any certainty that its agent had ignored a notice not to call on their address. As the complainant was dissatisfied with this response, the charity referred her to the Police and the Fundraising Regulator.

Our decision

There were key facts unavailable in our investigation. As is standard in cases like these, we had to consider all the available evidence and decide what was most likely to have happened on a balance of probability. 
Charities have responsibilities to ensure third-party fundraisers keep to the code and understand their responsibilities when representing them in fundraising campaigns. This includes how fundraisers approach people in potentially vulnerable circumstances. 

On examination of the policies and procedures the charity has in place, as well as the training and monitoring of the agency itself, we were satisfied that overall, these were sound. We were also satisfied that the omission of the advanced notification letter was an incidental error. However, given the plausible and persuasive nature of the testimony in relation to the complainant’s husband, we were also satisfied that given the level of training we know they would have received, the fundraiser should have been aware of his vulnerability and should not have signed him up to donate. 

We could not fairly say on the information available the specific actions this fundraiser took during this interaction – only that we were content on balance that the code was breached in terms of the assessment of a potentially vulnerable donor. There was also not enough information for us to say whether or not a sign was in place at the time. We were satisfied with how BCN handled the complaint and the steps taken to rectify the issue. 

As we did not find any systemic issues with the charity or its agency, we could only find that the agency was in breach of the code on the basis of the individual fundraiser’s actions, and  the charity on the basis that it was ultimately responsible for its agents.  

Code sections considered 

Code of Fundraising Practice, version effective 1 October 2019 (last updated 4 June 2021) 

  • Standard 1.3.7: breach identified against agency – no breach identified against charity 
  • Standard 1.3.8: no breach identified 
  • Standard 1.3.9: breach identified against agency – no breach identified against charity  
  • Standard 7.3.1: breach identified 
  • Standard 7.3.2: no breach identified 
  • Standard 8.4.3: unable to determine 
  • Standard 2.4.3: no breach identified


We recommended that BCN review its existing regular giving process to minimise the occurrence of such errors that could prevent the issue of its advanced notification letters not being sent.  We also recommended that the charity reviews the training its third-party fundraisers receive to ensure that there is no contradictory local guidance undermining its policies or fundraising practice, with particular reference to potential donors who may be in vulnerable circumstances. 

In terms of complaint handling, we recommended that the charity reviews its handling of this matter, so that it recognises and embeds the positive approach we found was demonstrated by its managers, while also learning from any errors and identifying gaps in knowledge. 

We recommended that APPCO UK review any local guidance that brings into question the delivery, understanding and practice of its vulnerability training for fundraisers across all its charity contracts.


The charity and its agency have accepted our findings and have agreed to our recommendations.