Name and type of organisation: Princess Alice Hospice (registered charity no. 1010930)
Fundraising method: charity shops
Code themes examined: customer service, complaints handling
Code breach? Yes
The complainant was moving house and booked a collection of some unwanted furniture items they wanted to donate to Princess Alice Hospice (the charity). They asked the charity for more information about the collection time but, despite repeated contact, it was not provided. During the collection some items were refused, without any warning that this may happen, and the complainant said damage was caused to their home. Although the charity investigated and acknowledged it had got things wrong, the complainant remained unhappy about their experience and the way their complaint was handled by the charity.
The complainant booked a collection of furniture items they wished to donate through the website of the charity. The charity had recently introduced a new way of managing its furniture donations using a third-party contractor (the contractor), with the process being managed by the charity’s individual shops. The complainant needed specific details about the timing of the collection and contacted the charity. The charity referred them to one of its shops, but the shop was unable to help. The complainant contacted the charity again on several occasions but was again referred back to the shop and was not provided with the required information before the collection.
During the collection, the contractor refused to take some items of furniture because of their condition but did take others. The complainant was unaware that the charity used a contractor or that items of furniture may be refused as the charity did not provide this information on its website or during the booking process. The complainant also said the operatives caused damage to their home during the collection.
The charity investigated their complaint and accepted there were failings in the way it had responded to the complainant’s concerns and how it had managed the collection. This was largely due to moving from a centrally managed furniture donation process to one managed by its shops and using a contractor. The complainant told the charity that they remained unhappy, but the charity did not respond further. The charity’s insurers then contacted the complainant to explain that, under its agreement with its contractor, liability for any damage would be dealt with by the contractor’s insurers. The charity’s insurers provided the contractor’s insurer’s details to the complainant.
It is common practice for charities that accept donated furniture to be able to refuse items that it feels it cannot sell. It may not be in the charity’s best interests to accept these donations as the charity may then incur costly disposal charges. It is also not unusual for charities to use third party contractors to carry out some of their activities.
The charity has accepted, and we agree, that at the time the complainant booked the furniture collection, the information on its website did not explain that it used third-party contractors for its collections, or that the drivers had the discretion to refuse items. We also found that it did not provide sufficient detail about the condition of items it may refuse. Similarly, the charity did not explain how liability for any damage or loss during the collection would be dealt with, and that it may be the responsibility of its contractor. We found the charity had breached the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) as its fundraising materials were misleading by leaving out information and by not treating donors fairly so they can make an informed decision about donating.
The charity did respond to the initial concerns raised by the complainant, although it was not able to answer their questions before the collection. The charity investigated their formal complaint, but it did not respond further when the complainant said they were still unhappy. In these circumstances the charity’s complaints policy provided an additional stage to refer the complaint to the Chair of trustees. We found the charity had breached the code by not responding to the complaint fairly as it had not followed its own complaints policy.
Throughout the complainant’s interactions with the charity, they expressed concerns about whether the charity had sufficient oversight of this activity and if it had carried out due diligence when agreeing to use its third-party contractor. At that time (November 2021) the charity had just introduced a new way of managing its furniture donations using a contractor. Following this complaint, the charity carried out a comprehensive review of the furniture donation process, ensuring adequate training of staff and improved information on its website.
The charity holds regular review meetings with its contractor, and management regularly review the operation of the process. There are clear procedures for resolving issues that arise. Since it started using its contractor and up until the end of 2022, the charity had only one other complaint, which was resolved by its contractor. We did not find the charity had breached the code in the way it assesses and manages risks that this fundraising activity poses to the charity.
Code sections considered
Code of Fundraising Practice, version effective 1 October 2019 (last updated 4 June 2021)
Section 1.3 Informing donors and treating people fairly
• Standard 1.3.1: breach identified
• Standard 1.3.6: breach identified
Section 2.4 Complaints and concerns about fundraising
• Standard 2.4.3: breach identified
Section 2.2 Risk assessment
• Standard 2.2.1: no breach identified
The charity has already updated its website to improve its information for supporters wishing to donate furniture items. We think it could be further improved by giving examples of what its contractor may consider to be damage, such as wear marks and scratches. If the charity may consider items to be unsellable, we recommend it should make this clear on its website. For example, because it is unpopular or there are too many similar items waiting to be sold.
Potential donors may expect the charity to be responsible for its contractor’s activities, including dealing with any claim for loss or damage. The charity’s third-party agreement means responsibility for dealing with complaints about some aspects of furniture collections is passed to the contractor, or the contractor’s insurers. If a charity wishes to pass on any risk or accountability to their contractor, this should be made clear to potential donors at the outset. We recommend the charity includes this in the information it provides.
The charity has accepted our findings and agreed to comply with our recommendations.