We investigate complaints about fundraising where these cannot be resolved by the organisations themselves. We do so by considering whether the fundraising organisation has complied with the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code), which outlines the legal requirements and best practice expected of all charitable fundraising organisations across the UK.
We deal with complaints about fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and fundraising in Scotland where it is carried out by charities registered primarily with the Charity Commission for England and Wales or the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.
We may also initiate investigations where we believe or suspect a breach of the code may have occurred even though no complaint has been received.
What we can investigate
We can investigate concerns that the Code of Fundraising Practice may have been breached by a fundraising organisation. Some examples of this are set out below:
- If a member of the public believes the fundraising organisation has made misleading or excessive requests for donations.
- If a member of the public believes a fundraising organisation has been disrespectful or treated them unfairly when seeking donations.
- If a fundraising organisation is not transparent or open about the relationship it has with a third party, for example, an agency working on its behalf.
- If a fundraising organisation has failed to respect a donor’s wishes, for example, if a donor has asked to be contacted only in a certain way.
- If a fundraising organisation has not dealt appropriately with a complaint made by a member of the public about fundraising.
What we cannot investigate
- Complaints about allegations of serious or sustained misconduct by those in management and control of a charity. These are usually matters for the Charity Commission in England and Wales, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland or the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
- Complaints that an organisation is claiming to be a charity when it is not, including allegations of fraud or criminal activity. These concerns should be put to the police or ActionFraud.
- Complaints about employment or contractual matters, either from a member of the public, an employee or third-party agency.
- Complaints that have already been brought to the attention of, and are being investigated by, the police.
- Complaints where legal action is being taken.
- Fundraising complaints against charities which are only registered in Scotland. To see if a charity is registered in Scotland you can search the Scottish Charity Register.
If you want to complain about fundraising by a charity registered in Scotland, please contact the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel.
Complaints should be made to us within two months of the organisation’s final response to a complaint.
We will consider complaints made outside of this timeframe, however, if more than two months have passed since the matter complained about it may not be possible for us to investigate effectively.
Who can complain
Our service is free and can be used by anyone who believes they have been affected by poor fundraising practice. If a member of the public is not able to make a complaint themselves they can ask someone to make the complaint to us on their behalf. We will ask the person making the complaint to provide us with adequate consent from the person affected before proceeding.
If we receive multiple complaints about the same issue we may identify a lead complaint or lead complaints to investigate.
If an individual faces difficulties pursuing their complaint because of a disability we will make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs.
We understand that in some cases complainants may contact us who are distressed and need support. If complainants are abusive or unreasonable we may restrict our contact with the complainant. In some cases, unreasonable behaviour may mean we are unable to proceed with our consideration of the complaint.
Raising concerns as a fundraiser
Fundraisers who feel they are being pressured to act in a way that is not in line with the code can contact us through our complaints form.
Individuals raising concerns have some protection in law under the Public Interest (Disclosure) Act (the Act). This Act protects individuals from detrimental treatment or victimisation if, in the public interest, they report concerns about serious wrongdoing at their fundraising organisation to us. However, the concerns they report must meet the conditions in the Act for a ‘protected disclosure’.
A concern from a fundraiser must relate to at least one of the following matters to qualify for legal protection from detrimental treatment or victimisation from their employer:
- a criminal offence
- the breach of a legal obligation
- a miscarriage of justice
- a danger to the health and safety of any individual
- damage to the environment
- deliberate concealment of information tending to show any of the above five matters.
The employee must:
- reasonably believe that the relevant failure relates to the proper administration of charities and funds given, or held, for charitable purposes; and/or
- reasonably believe that the information disclosed and any allegation contained in it are substantially true.
Before a complaint is made to us
We think organisations should have an opportunity to respond to complaints before we look at a case. If someone has a complaint about fundraising they should first complain to the organisation. This is often the quickest way to resolve a complaint and for the organisation to identify learning.
Complaints should be made to the organisation within three months of the incident complained about. Organisations should usually be given four weeks to consider and respond to the complaint.
If a complainant does not receive a response or is unhappy with the response they have received they can contact us.
How to complain
When making a complaint we need the complainant to provide us with:
- the name of the organisation that they are complaining about;
- when the incident giving rise to the complaint took place;
- a brief summary of what happened;
- their name and how they would like to be contacted;
- copies of any fundraising materials that may have given rise to the complaint;
- any other evidence the complainant considers supports the complaint; and
- details of the response to the complaint and why the complainant remains unhappy.
We will not disclose a complainant’s identity to the organisation(s) complained about without their consent. In most cases, we will need consent to allow the organisation to respond to any enquiries we may make. If the complainant does not provide us with consent this may affect whether we can deal with the complaint.
How we deal with complaints
We aim to acknowledge all new complaints within two working days of receipt.
A case officer will be allocated the case and act as the point of contact with the complainant and the relevant fundraising organisation. We will assess the complaint to establish whether:
- it is within our jurisdiction;
- it was made to us within the time limit and if not the reasons why;
- there are implications more widely for the fundraising sector;
- there is a risk to the public, the charity sector, or public confidence in fundraising more generally;
- there is evidence of a potential breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice.
We will let complainants know as soon as possible if the complaint is not in our jurisdiction.
If the complaint is in our jurisdiction we will look at whether the complaint has been put to the organisation complained about. If the complaint has not been put to the organisation we will usually ask the complainant to put it the organisation complained about first.
If a complainant has received a response from the organisation and remains unhappy, or if a complainant does not receive a response within four weeks, and we are satisfied that there is evidence of a potential breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice, we will usually investigate.
We aim to let complainants and organisations know whether we are going to investigate a complaint within four weeks of receipt.
If we investigate we will share the scope of our investigation with the complainant and the organisation complained about. We will identify an appropriate point of contact at the organisation to send this to, which will depend on its size and structure. If an organisation is a charity, we will ask that a copy of our scope is shared with the Chair of Trustees.
We will also seek any necessary evidence from the organisation(s) involved. We will usually ask for any evidence to be provided within two weeks of the request.
Once we have reached a provisional conclusion, if we identify a breach of the code, we will share a draft decision with the complainant and the organisations and allow two weeks for comment.
We will consider any comments provided by the parties to the complaint before finalising our decision.
If we have identified a breach of the code, we may make recommendations for improvement to the organisations concerned. We may also make recommendations to provide the complainant with an appropriate remedy.
We will set out in our final decision the timescales within which we expect the organisations to comply with our recommendations. Where we have investigated a charity and made recommendations, we will ask that the trustees oversee compliance with our recommendations.
Recommendations may include:
- an apology for the complainant;
- further training and/or action taken to learn from the breach;
- recommending that the organisation conducts an independent external audit of their fundraising.
In some cases, we may send a copy of our final decision to other relevant organisations such as the Charity Commission or HM Revenue and Customs.
We aim to complete investigations within 13 weeks of receiving the complaint.
In the event that an organisation does not comply with our recommendations, actions we may take are to:
- refer the case to the relevant statutory regulator, for example, the Charity Commission or the Information Commissioner; and
- remove the charity from our public directory and suspend the use of the Fundraising Badge.
Investigation summaries and naming organisations
Organisations will be named in all investigations into complaints received on or after 1 March 2019.
Investigation summaries will include:
- the name of the organisation investigated;
- details of the complaint;
- what happened;
- whether the code was breached;
- the decision that was reached;
- details of any recommendations that we made; and
- the outcome of our investigation.
They will not include the details of those who have made complaints.
All parties to a complaint will be provided with a copy of the investigation summary intended for publication at the point at which we issue our final investigation decision, and will have two weeks to raise any concerns or comments with us.
We will not disclose additional information about the cases we have investigated to third parties, except where this is in line with our established Memoranda of Understanding.
Investigation summaries will stay on our website for two years, after which they will be removed and only available on request.
In some cases our draft decision may be considered by the Complaints and Investigations Committee.
These cases will usually contain wider learning for the sector and may include situations where:
- we have received multiple complaints about the same issue and/or charity;
- we see cases that are novel or of wider public interest;
- we have identified wider or systemic issues within the complaint; or
- there might be a risk to public safety or public confidence in fundraising.
If we decide to refer a case to the Committee we will write to the organisations concerned and the complainant to let them know the reasons for that decision.
The process of investigating the complaint is the same as outlined above.
The draft decision will be referred to the Committee for consideration before it is shared with the parties to the complaint.
The Committee will consider any comments made on the draft decision and approve the final decision on the complaint.
We will usually publish in full decisions referred to the Committee.
Our decisions are final and there is no process of appeal. However, parties to the complaint may request an external review if they can show that one or more of the following criteria are met:
- where we have refused to reopen an investigation in response to new evidence;
- where there was a material defect in the process by which our decision was made; and/or
- where it is alleged that our decision is manifestly unreasonable and not one we could sensibly have made having regard to all the relevant facts.
Requests for a review must be sent to the Vice Chair of our board at the Fundraising Regulator, either by post to CAN Mezzanine, 2nd Floor, 49-51 East Rd, London N1 6AH, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org marked for the attention of the Vice Chair.
Requests for a review can be made by the complainant or the fundraising organisation. Those from a fundraising organisation should be signed by the chair or the chief executive.
Requests should be in writing and outline the reasons for the review request referring to which of the criteria are relevant. The request should also provide any additional evidence being relied upon.
The request for a review must be made within four weeks of our decision. However, we will consider requests outside of this time limit in exceptional circumstances.
The Vice Chair will consider the request for review and may:
- seek further information from the Head of Casework and/or the Committee;
- refer the case back to the Head of Casework and/or the Committee with recommendations for them to consider;
- determine that there are no grounds for review; or
- refer the case to an external reviewer.
Further information required
In some cases further information may be required from the Head of Casework and/or the Committee to enable the Vice Chair to make a decision.
If the Vice Chair identifies new evidence that impacts the decision made they may refer the case back to the Head of Casework.
If the Vice Chair identifies a flaw in the decision they may refer the case back to the Head of Casework without the need for an external review.
No grounds for review
In cases where the vice chair determines that there are no grounds for review they will set out in writing the reasons for that decision and provide the complainant with the contact details of the external reviewer.
If the complainant is not satisfied with the response from the Vice Chair they may write directly to the external reviewer. The external reviewer will consider, independently, whether there are grounds for review.
Grounds for review
If an external review is required the external reviewer will have access to all of the information obtained as part of our investigation.
The external reviewer may also request further information from the complainant, the organisations concerned or us.
The external reviewer will provide an analysis outlining their views as to the robustness of the decision. This will be sent by the Vice Chair to the parties involved in the complaint together with details of what action, if any, is being taken.
If the external reviewer identifies minor factual errors they may recommend those changes are made.
If the external reviewer identifies that our decision is not sound they can recommend that we reconsider the complaint.
We will publish any decisions that we amend following an external review.
The external reviewer will provide a report of their activities. This will be included in our annual report.