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Regulators probe charities after news website investigation

Conor Gogarty 2Regulators have launched an inquiry after a news website’s investigation revealed that charities have been using exploitative sales firms to get donations.

Wales Online investigations editor Conor Gogarty exposed charities’ use of unscrupulous subcontractors to source donations, resulting in two sales offices closing down and an inquiry by the Fundraising Regulator.

As previously reported by HTFP, Conor went undercover at a direct sales office in Cardiff last year and used a hidden camera to reveal that door-to-door reps were trained to “trick” people into charity payments.

Then, last week, be revealed that a second Cardiff office had used manipulative tactics to obtain donations and put reps through humiliating forfeits if they missed targets.

Both offices were used by charities including the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) which has since said it was “upset and very concerned” to hear about the reps’ experiences.

The two offices, which used bogus self-employment loopholes to avoid paying its reps the minimum wage, closed down after Wales Online’s reporting — but both were part of wider direct sales networks that remain active.

Conor, pictured, told HTFP:  “This is the second sales office in Cardiff to have closed following our reporting. We’re glad to have raised awareness of these operations’ exploitative practices, which are alarmingly widespread in the direct sales and fundraising sector.

“It’s an industry that needs far more scrutiny, so it’s welcome that our coverage has led to the Fundraising Regulator launching its first ever market inquiry.

“The inquiry, which is looking at charities’ use of subcontractors to source donations, has so far seen around 80 charities and agencies interviewed by the regulator.

“The evidence we’ve gathered shows charities should be doing far more due diligence to ensure that the companies representing them are acting ethically, rather than using manipulative tactics to get donations and failing to pay reps the minimum wage.

“There also needs to be more oversight from HMRC and the UK Government to ensure that these often young and vulnerable reps’ rights are not being flouted.

“Regional news publishers can do powerful investigative work that leads to change. There has been an overwhelming response to our coverage from people who have worked at direct sales companies.

“More than 1.6 million TikTok users have watched our undercover video from August, and we continue to be contacted by people who want to speak out on their own appalling experiences in the industry.

“We intend to continue giving them a voice.”

A spokesman for the Fundraising Regulator told Wales Online that the “preliminary findings” of the inquiry are due to be discussed next month among its board, while the Charity Commission is also looking into the Reach plc-owned website’s findings.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “Our compliance case into the National Deaf Children’s Society in relation to concerns about third-party fundraising is ongoing and we are liaising with the Fundraising Regulator, which is the lead regulator in this area.

“We await the outcome of the Fundraising Regulator’s engagement with other charities named in WalesOnline’s reporting to see if there is a role for us as regulators.”

A spokeswoman for NDCS said the charity was “upset and very concerned” to read about reps’ experiences, which “fall way short of what anyone should expect when working on our behalf”.