Why is Asda failing customers on charity collections? Part Four

  1. This is the final part of a four-part investigation into questionable charity collections at an Asda store in Manchester. Here I make some observations and recommendations after my experiences with Everyone’s Children’s Trust (registered charity number: 1127302) and Oldham Owls Disabled Sports Club (registered charity number: 504371). I also show that there are serious concerns about Orkidz Children’s Trust (registered charity number: 1121948) and Make Them Smile (registered charity number: 1150013), two children’s charities linked to Everyone’s Children’s Trust.
  2. The first thing to say is that I’m disappointed at the conduct of the manager of Asda Longsight and his staff including the customer service manager. They deliberately acted to avoid scrutiny of both the charity collections in their store and the public record of those collections (see part one of this investigation).
  3. Not only did the store try to fob me off and then cover up. But Asda is putting the public across the UK at risk. My investigation shows that it is failing to exercise due diligence on charities and their collectors.
  4. Supermarkets are important fundraising venues for legitimate charities. Unfortunately, they can also be important sources of funds for bogus charities and/or bogus collectors, as the recent case involving Help for Heroes (registered charity number: 1120920) shows. In September 2014, Christopher Copeland of Devon was jailed for four and a half years after admitting stealing £300 000 of donations collected in the name of the high-profile military charity. He’d organised bogus collections at supermarkets around the country. (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/15/help-for-heroes-conman-jailed-300000-donations)
  5. None of the media reports I’ve seen (including that I’ve cited) explain why Copeland almost got away with it, what made the public vulnerable at the stores. How could the money end up in his personal bank accounts? Supermarkets are private sites and as such collectors for legitimate charities (or not) require only the owner’s permission. His fraud wouldn’t have been possible if he’d organised street collections because these must be licensed by the local authority. There is no scrutiny of money flows without a street collection permit. Hence the risk of charity fraud at supermarkets and other private sites.
  6. Neither Everyone’s Children’s Trust nor Oldham Owls Disabled Sports Club collects on the street, I confirmed in writing. It isn’t only about scrutiny of money flows though. Licensing sections in councils are experienced at due diligence on charities and their collections (they also have access to information from other authorities). Charity collections in supermarkets are not subject to that scrutiny: collectors there have only to obtain the owner’s permission. And here I have shown that Asda is failing to exercise due diligence on charities and their collectors. Simple, routine checks seem not to have been made (see parts two and three of this investigation).
  7. There is an urgent need for Asda to learn from railway stations, another class of private sites popular for charity fundraising. In October 2014, seven of the major rail and station operators joined forces to commit to safer giving measures in their stations. (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/rail-companies-join-forces-to-champion-safer-giving) The new measures include introduction of a standardised application process for charities wishing to fundraise on their premises and closer monitoring of charity collections. One simple requirement is for charities to have filed their annual charity return information on time with the Charity Commission – a very low test failed by Everyone’s Children’s Trust and Oldham Owls Disabled Sports Club.
  8. Unfortunately, the questionable charity collections at Asda Longsight aren’t limited to Everyone’s Children’s Trust and Oldham Owls Disabled Sports Club. As usual, the store is currently inviting shoppers to vote for one of three local “good causes” to receive funding from the Asda Foundation (registered charity number: 1124268). Customers receive a green token each time they pay to put in a box for the cause they want to support. Yet the public are also using the boxes to donate cash even if that’s not Asda’s intention (the money is visible inside the transparent boxes). Two of the current three proposed local “good causes” are suspicious, not least because both are linked to Everyone’s Children’s Trust (and Buttercup Children’s Trust (registered charity number: 1128027)).
  9. Again, they are both children’s charities: Orkidz Children’s Trust (registered charity number: 1121948) and Make Them Smile (registered charity number: 1150013). Make Them Smile was previously called Dreams & Wishes Children’s Trust. Again, Tony Stirk is registered owner of both domain names, orkidz.org.uk and makethemsmile.org.uk (source: WHOIS records). Again, they are both connected to Bradford: Orkidz Children’s Trust has an office there, according to its website; while Make Them Smile is apparently located in that city only.
  10. On 19 October 2014, I saw a man at Asda Longsight collecting donations for Orkidz Children’s Trust. I don’t know whether its collectors have been there before or since. But as for the linked Everyone’s Children’s Trust, it is clear that Asda is exposing shoppers across the country to collections in the name of Orkidz Children’s Trust. Here is the charity at Asda Bridgwater, Somerset April 2013, for example: http://greenroom.asda.com/store/bridgwater/photo/kRvsMjTX. The collector I encountered at Asda Longsight had the same display board as in that photo except it showed the address of the Bradford office instead of the Birmingham one there. “Children’s cancer appeal”, it proclaims.
  11. Yet searching online for “children’s cancer appeal” with the charity’s name produces no hits, which is obviously suspicious. No independent references online to the alleged appeal – but no references even on the charity’s website either. Ridiculous.
  12. The website shares many of the characteristics of the one Tony Stirk created for Everyone’s Children’s Trust. Both are unconvincing and non-transparent. So again the “Appeals” page hasn’t changed over time: the same two apparently current appeals, “Danny” and “Harry”, appear at 1 June 2014 (https://web.archive.org/web/20140601064857/http://orkidz.org.uk/Appeals.html) and 20 February 2015 (https://web.archive.org/web/20150220172457/http://www.orkidz.org.uk/Appeals.html). The homepage hasn’t changed over time either: it’s the same at 1 June 2014 (https://web.archive.org/web/20140601070217/http://orkidz.org.uk/index.html) and 3 March 2015 (https://web.archive.org/web/20150303110717/http://orkidz.org.uk/index.html). The homepage is vague about who exactly the charity helps, claiming that it is for children with “a broad scope of serious health conditions”.
  13. The “Contact Us” page describes how to apply for a grant – here it is at 20 February 2015: https://web.archive.org/web/20150220173956/http://www.orkidz.org.uk/ContactUs.html. It laughingly says only: “If you or a family you know fit our criteria then please don’t hesitate to contact us.” But what exactly are the criteria and where are they? Also, there is no application form for funding, as for the linked Everyone’s Children’s Trust (see part two of this investigation).
  14. Screenshots of the websites for both Orkidz Children’s Trust and Buttercup Children’s Trust appear on the “web design, build and hosting service” page of the website of GT Photo, Mr Stirk’s company. Here is that page at 2 September 2014: http://www.freezepage.com/1409671189OKDFYOVRYV.
  15. I now turn to an important link between Orkidz Children’s Trust and the two charities, Everyone’s Children’s Trust and Buttercup Children’s Trust. Part two of this investigation showed how the last two charities started life as companies set up by the shadowy CRSA Ltd in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. Everyone’s Children’s Trust began as CRSA Stock 7, while Buttercup Children’s Trust was initially CRSA Stock 9. Well, CRSA Ltd also created Orkidz Children’s Trust: it was previously called CRSA Stock 6.
  16. The photo of Orkidz Children’s Trust at Asda Llanelli Murray Street, Wales September 2013 clearly demonstrates a failure of due diligence at that store: http://greenroom.asda.com/store/llanelli/photo/sVp3fLmQ. Here the Asda employee states: “I was pleased to support Orkidz childrens [sic] cancer appeal in store today. This charity is new to us in Llanelli, and many customers wanted to know more about it, luckily the volunteers were on hand to give information, well done and hope to see you again soon.” Oh dear.
  17. Inadequate due diligence at Asda Living Barnsley, too, where “great charity” Orkidz Children’s Trust apparently raised more than £400 in February 2013: http://greenroom.asda.com/store/cortonwood-living/photo/ld0Zj67u. There are plenty more photos of Orkidz Children’s Trust collectors at Asda stores around the country on the company’s Green Room website. (http://greenroom.asda.com)
  18. Bad news for anyone wanting to buy online Orkidz Children’s Trust branded clothing such as that worn by the collectors at Asda Bridgwater and Asda Llanelli Murray Street. On 1 June 2014, the “online shop” on the charity’s website was “coming soon!” (https://web.archive.org/web/20140601065719/http://orkidz.org.uk/OnlineShop.html). And at 6 March 2015 it’s still, er, “coming soon!” (https://web.archive.org/web/20150306114505/http://www.orkidz.org.uk/OnlineShop.html).
  19. One final point about Orkidz Children’s Trust: its accounts and annual returns are overdue at the Charity Commission. Sound familiar?
  20. Now, Make Them Smile. How is it linked to Everyone’s Children’s Trust other than via Tony Stirk for domain name registration and location in Bradford? Two of the three trustees of Make Them Smile, the charity, are also directors of Make Them Smile, the company (company number: 07525980). Martin Stirk (any relation?) is the other director of the company, but isn’t a trustee of the charity. Well, Martin Stirk appears in the “list of all genuine agents” of Everyone’s Children’s Trust on its homepage at 30 May 2014. (https://web.archive.org/web/20140530180449/http://everyones.org.uk/index.html) Also, Mr M Eggleston is the other trustee of Make Them Smile, the charity, but isn’t a director of the company. There are three people with family name Eggleston in the “list of all genuine agents” of Everyone’s Children’s Trust on its homepage at 30 May 2014.
  21. Asda Longsight has received awards from Andy Clarke, Asda chief executive, for the store’s “outstanding support in your local community”. The store proudly displays consecutive awards for 2012, 2013 and 2014. It certainly seems that a lot of money is being raised: at 1 December 2014, for example, a public notice announced: “So far this year we’ve raised £12 083.05 for local good causes in our community. Thank you all for your generosity and support.” But Mr Clarke should spend less time giving awards to Asda Longsight. Rather he should be concerned about protecting shoppers there and around the UK from those who abuse the generosity of the public. Asda is trusted. Customers rightly expect his stores to scrutinise charities and their collectors. Unfortunately, a registered charity number is necessary but not sufficient to assess credibility. Asda, by failing to exercise due diligence, isn’t just undermining confidence and trust in charities and charitable giving. The UK’s second largest supermarket also damages its own reputation. What makes it worse, Asda has needlessly prolonged the time it is putting the public across the UK at risk by deliberately blocking my enquiries.
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