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Coping with Cancer North East and Unicare Limited: March 2020

Name and type of organisation/s: Coping with Cancer North East (registered charity no. 513820) and its agency Unicare Limited

Fundraising method: Clothing collections

Code themes examined: the delivery of a collection bag to a ‘restricted address’, complaint handling and third-party organisations

Code breach?

  • Coping with Cancer North East? No
  • Unicare Limited? Yes

The complaint

The complainant said that they continued to receive collection bags from Unicare Limited (the agency) on behalf of Coping with Cancer North East (the charity), despite requesting not to receive any more.

What happened?

On 30 August 2019 the complainant told the charity that they had received ten collection bags in as many weeks. They said that they had contacted the agency three times and each time was reassured that they would not receive further collection bags. They also raised concerns about the environmental impact of plastic. On 3 September 2019 the agency said that it had added the complainant’s address to its ‘no call list’ to prevent further charity bag deliveries. However, the complainant received a further charity bag on 27 September 2019.

The agency told us that it had a record of being contacted by the complainant on 7 August 2019 and that their address was restricted on that date to prevent further charity bag deliveries. It said that it had no record of the complainant contacting it three times. On 2 September 2019, the complainant’s whole street was highlighted on the distribution map as ‘no call’ and the distributor was issued with a verbal warning and retrained. The agency said that following the final charity bag delivery the distributor faced dismissal.

In an email to the complainant on 3 September 2019, the agency told the complainant that their address had been added to its ‘no call’ list. However, at the time of this email, the complainant’s address had already been on a ‘no call’ list for three weeks, and it had restricted their entire street the day before. The agency only offered an apology and explanation for the charity bag delivery after the complainant had contacted it twice. The agency also inaccurately advised the complainant that the collection bags were biodegradable when only a small part is.

In response to the final charity bag delivery, the charity acknowledged receipt of the complaint and said that it would address it the next working day. The charity said that this was its last contact with the complainant, as it was agreed that the agency would respond. The agency responded several weeks later after we told the agency of our investigation.

The charity told us that it has been unable to obtain the appropriate assurances from the agency that it can operate in full compliance with the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code). Therefore, its trustees have decided to terminate its agreement with the agency, with a six- month notice period.

Our decision

We found that even though the agency marked the complainant’s address as ‘no call’ on 7 August 2019 it delivered further collection bags on 30 August 2019 and 26 September 2019. Therefore, we found that the agency breached two sections of the code which related to unreasonably persistent fundraising and being respectful.

We did not have enough information about the complainant’s early telephone calls to the agency to reach a finding on this particular point. However, we could see that the agency appeared to have investigated the charity bag deliveries on 30 August 2019 and 26 September 2019. We therefore found that the agency had not breached the section of the code which relates to investigating complaints. However, as the agency’s complaint responses contained mistakes and omissions, we found that it had breached the complaint handling section of the code.

Once the charity was aware of the complainant’s final complaint, it should have ensured that the agency provided them with a timely final response. However, we could see the efforts the charity had made to seek the appropriate assurance from the agency in relation to compliance with the code. We also acknowledge how seriously it was taking its responsibilities in this regard, ultimately deciding to terminate its contract with the agency. Therefore, we found that the charity had not breached the section of the code regarding monitoring third parties.

Recommendations

We recommended that the agency:

  • review the learning from this complaint and what further action it can take to minimise the risk of unwanted collection bags being delivered to households on its ‘no call’ list.
  • review the learning from this complaint to improve its complaint handling. We ask that the agency pay particular attention to ensuring that all aspects of a complaint are addressed.

Outcome

We asked that the agency write to us within two months of our final decision to provide us with an update on the action taken in response to our findings and recommendations.