Charity Begins at Home

Christmas! The time for families to get together if distance and circumstances allow. It is also the time when charities prey on many of us via our letterboxes, telephones and newspaper advertisements hoping to induce some guilt and catch the attention of those eager for some Christmas spirit.

Don’t get me wrong. I support charities throughout the year and since my book, Grandma’s Poetry Book, was published I have given many free copies for raffle prizes or charity competition prizes. Several Dorset charities have display copies and keep £1 for each book sold via their online or high street shop. I buy Christmas cards which support charities and I regularly clear out unwanted presents, clothes and bric a brac and donate to my local Weldmar Hospice shop.

However, I am more sceptical since the rush of ‘bad news’ stories in the press.

The heartbreaking story of 92 year old Olive Cooke who took her life when inundated with pleas for money is one. We now know how the charities obtained her details and sent official letters to which she felt obligated. A Daily Mail investigation discovered Mrs Cooke’s name was on a list of donors maintained by shadowy data firms and sold on to charities.  The vulnerable and elderly Samuel Rae also felt obliged to respond and lost track of how many payments he was making to charities.


With Christmas around the corner, what can families do to ensure their elderly relatives don’t fall into these traps? While distance may prevent adult children from visiting and monitoring their parents’ activities, it may be wise to nurture a relationship with a friendly neighbour who can keep an eye on their elderly relative.  In case they do not already know this, anyone can put a vulnerable person’s name down on the Mail Preference Service to prevent charity mail shots. When a relative of mine disclosed she had written cheques to the tune of £200 one December (notoriously the peak month for begging letters) I told her I would ensure she received no more post and on returning home entered her postal details on the site However, I also gave her advice such as binning ‘junk mail’ immediately and made her promise not to open junk mail or write another cheque. I have followed up with reminders.


But relatives are not always aware and those caught in scams or paying out more donations than they can afford are often too embarrassed to raise the subject. Sadly some younger relatives have broken contact with elderly relatives who have given away large sums of money which they class as ‘theirs’. So what else can be done?



Banks should have a responsibility to contact customers who appear to set up too many direct debits to charities. My own view is that three modest amounts – say £3 a month each – should be enough for any pensioner on a basic pension. Our banks owe us a duty of care and should be monitoring our accounts for unusual activity. Let us all ask our bank (if we still see a face) if they do this. I was surprised that about 30 cheques written by my relative for small amounts to charity was not queried by her bank or building society. PayPal restricted my account after unusual activity. The scam purchase was pursued by PayPal and they succeeded in getting the money back. If PayPal can monitor accounts then surely the banks should.



The Government could also take some action such as setting up public information advertisements on both BBC and independent television channels. Despite the horrific cases and suicides, I have yet to see a sensible information film warning about the plethora of begging letters at this time of year. Such advertisements could include information on how to register with the mail preference service and ways to do this for those who cannot or will not go online.


The charities themselves should have a responsibility to monitor their benefactors, perhaps even adding a section on the mandate or newspaper advertisement asking for details of other charities the donor is also supporting. The charities involved in both the above cases insist they followed ethical standards but they should take some responsibility for the passing on of details. Surely it is time for selling a person’s details to be made illegal. The plight of people pensioners as Olive Cooke and Samuel Rae should be a wakeup call to charities. More precautions are needed. David Cameron has called for watchdogs to investigate these cases. The Fundraising Standards Board needs to be investigating ALL charities and make them answerable.


Telephone Preference Service enables anyone to register and prevent unwanted calls. However, TPS regulations do not apply if the charity or selling organisation has consent. For example, if you have a bank account, that bank can phone and try to sell services without falling foul of TPS. We all know how difficult it is to find out the name of the company phoning. A minor change would be that telephone sales staff should, by law, have to state the name of their firm at the start of the call – this is extremely difficult information to ascertain from a persistent telesalesperson especially those offshore! TPS also cannot stop the recorded messages being left – a common practice these days – and a clear attempt to get round the regulations which govern the service. Again the law needs to be changed to prohibit recorded messages being left on answerphones. Our landlines operate within our private home space and these intrusions can cause untold stress and anxiety.

What can charities do?

Charities need us. They need volunteers so they need to be more flexible especially with those who are elderly. Ask the volunteer what they can do rather than tell them what you want. Foster a good relationship and remember they are not paid staff. There is no need for a volunteer to be behind the counter at 5pm. That is the job of the paid staff. And stop these unwanted calls which can cause distress.

If you have cause for complaint you can take this to the Fundraising Standards Board who will investigate the issue.

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If you or someone you know have been targeted with excessive fundraising approaches please contact

If you or a family member of yours has been the victim of scams, help is available at


A version of this article appeared first on www. in December.

I am a writer living in Swanage. Born and bred in Hertfordshire, I always had a love of words, writing as soon as I could hold a pen. My sister is profoundly deaf and I have a passionate interest in raising deaf awareness. After my youngest daughter went to school I began a career teaching in Further Education, while collecting a hoard of unfinished manuscripts. Later, my writing took precedence and, since becoming a regular attendee at the Winchester Writers’ Conference, I have enjoyed success in their competitions gaining two first prizes and highly commended awards for articles on a range of subjects. I began blogging in 2012 and as well as issues surrounding deafness I blog on mental health, dyslexia, writing and anything topical that stirs me to fire up the computer. My poetry collection, Grandma’s Poetry Book, was self-published by Matador in November 2014. I have other books in progress and there is interest from agents in my memoir of growing up with a deaf sibling. Before moving to Swanage in 2001, I enjoyed a nomadic existence in Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and South Bucks before finally settling down on the south coast. I live close to my partner, Bryan, in a Victorian building overlooking Swanage Bay with views towards Bournemouth and Old Harry Rocks. I have three daughters and seven grandchildren.





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