Charities warned over fundraising 'harassment'

William Shawcross Image copyright PA
Image caption Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross said charities had to listen to the public

Charities could face criminal sanctions unless they stop aggressive fundraising tactics, their regulator has warned.

William Shawcross, Charity Commission chairman, told the Times that the watchdog should oversee practices such as street fundraising - by so-called "chuggers" - if self-regulation failed.

He said the death of poppy seller Olive Cooke, 92, had highlighted the issue.

Mrs Cooke killed herself in May after receiving hundreds of charity letters. Her family said this was not to blame.

Following her death, the government commissioned a review by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary organisations.

Mr Shawcross told the newspaper: "If he concludes that self-regulation by charities cannot work, then government would have to consider whether the Charity Commission should regulate fundraising."

'Must listen'

An inquest last month found that Mrs Cooke, from Bristol, killed herself after suffering problems with depression and insomnia.

Mr Shawcross described what happened as "horrible".

"The plethora of stories of people being deluged by mailings and harassed by endless telephone calls on behalf of charities are intolerable," he told the newspaper.

"Charities must listen to what people want and, more importantly, do not want."

He said that if statutory regulation was introduced, charities would be banned from using high-pressure tactics and repeatedly targeting individuals.

"There is a dilemma for charities," he said.

"They have to raise money... but they mustn't be aggressive."

Mental health charity Sane said it welcomed Mr Shawcross's comments.

"We believe that donors should be treated with the same confidentiality and respect as our beneficiaries," Sane's chief executive Marjorie Wallace said.

Earlier this month Prime Minister David Cameron said that charities should be forced to draw up written agreements showing how vulnerable people will be protected from aggressive fundraising tactics.

The changes will be included in amendments to the Charities Bill.

Mr Cameron said the actions of some fundraisers were damaging the reputation of the charity sector.

The Charity Commission registers and regulates charities in England and Wales.

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