What is the point of charity regulation?

With food banks on the rise, government cutbacks and a general malaise in society over issues such as Brexit the ‘third sector’ is becoming more and more important.

There have of course been long running concerns with charities – not least the links with government and the headlines over excessive executive pay. However, I’ve always presumed they are reasonably reliable given the process of having to apply to become one seemingly being fairly robust.

A bad recent experience

I’ve recently had my first really bad experience with a charity so thought I would capture it here…particularly as they seem free to act as they wish.

What happened…

I recently had a call from an organisation that claimed to be a charity. This quickly escalated into a very aggressive phone call, well beyond how cold-callers tend to just give up on you or repeat a script until you have to hangup.

Regulation failure

Due to my surprise at this experience I took to the Charity Commission website to report this. Long story short, I was told “It might be helpful if I explain that we are the regulator of charities and not a complaints ombudsman.” Patronising and not helpful in equal measure.

Surely a regulator needs to be aware of misuse? Even if just to track if any charity number is repeatedly being accused of aggressive behaviour.

Their advice was even worse…

I advise you to go back to the organisation and complain directly to them.

RAU Gateway Team [and, no, it did not explain on the email what RAU means]

This would be the same organisation that I’ve told you cold-called me, on my work mobile number, and that I already complained to them about their practice. They were aggressive when I queried how they got the phone number they used and how they can be selling debt management services. This doesn’t even go into the ethics of the above quoted response – what, for example, if you were telling someone with dementia or other mental health issues to contact an organisation that has already acted aggressively to them via unsolicited communication.

This seems a complete failure of a regulator whose Risk Framework fails to identify the level of risk to other charities being aggressive, acting as a cover for cold-calling and hard-selling services (such as debt management). This seems to be a risk to genuine charities in the way ‘chugging’ damaged views of the sector. Ultimately this appears to be an example of regulation failing the public, I specifically pointed out I was reporting this in case there are others doing the same about the charity yet this seems to have been ignored – despite the framework full text stating they will “use data and information effectively to identify risk and to pursue abuse of charity”.

Overall, there seems to be a disconnect between reputational risk and the process controls in place.