Why is Martin Lewis endorsing Soldiering On Through Life Trust?

  1. Consumer champion Martin Lewis is founder and editor of the MoneySavingExpert website, slogan: “Cutting your costs. Fighting your corner!” (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com) Millions trust the award-winning broadcaster and journalist for his impartiality and integrity. The Money Saving Expert has long campaigned against celebrity endorsement of what he deems rip-off financial products. For example, in his 15 May 2012 column in The Daily Telegraph, he criticised Michael Parkinson for advertising an expensive and opaque over–50s plan. Carol Vorderman has been another target, for endorsing a loan consolidation company. So it’s surprising that he himself endorses a military charity that in 2012 donated only 8.3% (i.e. £15 000) of its £180 564 income to other military charities. But it’s worse than that. Lewis’ PR agent is a trustee of the charity, Soldiering On Through Life Trust (SOTLT) – and the Money Saving Expert fails to disclose the fact.
  2. On 5 April 2014, Lewis told his nearly 300 000 followers on Twitter (@martinslewis): “Privileged to present the Family award @soldieringontlt tonight. Honouring those who put themselves in danger to make the rest of us safe.” @soldieringontlt is the official SOTLT Twitter account. That night, the charity held its “flagship event”, the annual SOTLT Awards Night.
  3. In his next tweet that day, Lewis provided a link to an article on the Mirror website, dated 8 February 2014, for “the brave story of the lady I will be presenting the award to”. The Sunday Mirror newspaper was a “headline” sponsor of the 2014 Soldiering On Awards.
  4. But the Money Saving Expert failed to tell his followers that his PR agent, Murray Harkin, is a trustee of SOTLT.
  5. Harkin is managing director of the Lyndon Agency, a PR and events company that bills itself as “The Money Saving Expert’s experts”. Lewis appears prominently at the top of its list of clients. (http://www.mhapr.co.uk/our-clients.php) Here SOTLT also is shown as a client, the Lyndon Agency “responsible for the organization of the 2014 Awards and on going press and publicity”.
  6. We don’t know whether Lewis is paid to endorse SOTLT. Presumably not, as it’s a charity. But the public should know.
  7. Even if Lewis isn’t paid, his endorsement is not a disinterested one. Not only does he benefit from association with a “good cause”. The “good cause” isn’t even independent, given Harkin’s paid PR role for Lewis.
  8. It is easy to imagine Lewis rightly criticising a celebrity endorsing a charity for which his/her PR agent is a trustee. But I’m sure that he’d disapprove even more if the celebrity hides the fact that his/her PR agent is a trustee of the charity.
  9. Here are seven further reasons why I believe Lewis, consumer champion, shouldn’t be involved with SOTLT:
  10. FIRST REASON: I exposed how on one day in November 2013, SOTLT raised funds from the public in central Manchester illegally, in two different ways. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/soldiering-on-through-life-trust-charity-or-political-lobbyist/)
  11. SECOND REASON: SOTLT gives the impression that it directly supports “heroes”, but in fact it doesn’t. Rather, it in turn donates funds to other military charities – very inefficiently. In 2012, it donated only 8.3% (i.e. £15 000) of its £180 564 income to military charities. So for whom exactly is the charity raising funds? (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/soldiering-on-through-life-trust-charity-or-political-lobbyist/)
  12. THIRD REASON: Harkin’s conflict of interest. Trustees have a duty to act always in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries. (http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/trustees-staff-and-volunteers/trustee-board/conflicts-of-interest/) Yet Harkin as trustee of SOTLT has a glaring conflict of interest: he is managing director of the Lyndon Agency, which is paid for work it does for the charity. His decisions as trustee are therefore influenced by his own interests as managing director of the PR and events company. Declaring a conflict of interest does not remove it. That we can’t be sure that Harkin as trustee is always acting in the charity’s best interests undermines confidence and trust in SOTLT.
  13. FOURTH REASON: SOTLT acts as a political lobbyist, offering “access” to “government” for cash. “Meet the PM and other MPs”, says its corporate brochure. The charity/political lobbyist is at the heart of government. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/soldiering-on-through-life-trust-charity-or-political-lobbyist/)
  14. FIFTH REASON: In the days before its “flagship event”, the 2014 Soldiering On Awards, SOTLT censored its website, preventing scrutiny of its activities. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/soldiering-on-through-life-trust-the-fab-new-website-that-censors-previously-published-information/)
  15. SIXTH REASON: “We would be delighted to hear from you and to answer your questions”, says the charity on its “Contact Us” web page. (http://soldieringon.org/contact-us/) Enquiries are directed to Chairman Wing Commander Tal Lambert. Yet Wing Commander Lambert didn’t reply to my 2 April 2014 message asking “why in the run-up to the Awards Night on Saturday [5 April 2014] SOTLT has removed much of the previously published information on its website, soldieringon.org”. In full disclosure, I provided a link to my 31 March 2014 post on the changes to the SOTLT website. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/soldiering-on-through-life-trust-we-would-be-delighted-to-hear-from-you-and-to-answer-your-questions/)
  16. SEVENTH REASON: Wing Commander Lambert isn’t the only trustee who doesn’t answer legitimate questions; Colin Debenham doesn’t either. (https://dralexmay.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/soldiering-on-through-life-trust-charity-or-political-lobbyist/)
  17. I believe that the Money Saving Expert would rightly criticise a charity that behaves in any of these ways, let alone all of them. So why exactly is he endorsing SOTLT?
  18. Consumer champion Martin Lewis undermines his credibility by endorsing SOTLT. His PR agent is a trustee – and even worse, the Money Saving Expert fails to disclose the fact. On SOTLT, Lewis has a conflict of interest, which he doesn’t even reveal. The Money Saving Expert has long campaigned against celebrity endorsement of what he deems rip-off financial products. So it’s unclear why Lewis himself endorses a military charity that is such a bad deal for the public. Anyone wishing to donate to military charities should do so directly, bypassing this expensive, unnecessary and opaque intermediary.
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One thought on “Why is Martin Lewis endorsing Soldiering On Through Life Trust?

  1. Pingback: Soldiering On Through Life Trust: a very inefficient military charity is now even more inefficient | Dr Alex May

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