The truth about Age UK is that it has become a social enterprise company rather than a charity. You might say it is a charity with a commercial arm. But there is a point when the aggressive nature of the commercial arrangements can compromise the charity's role and independence.
Age UK is proud of its commercial approach. It has won awards for it. It boasts about it. It has been a trailblazer in the new approach for charity fundraising through engagement with the financial market in insurance, equity release plans, energy tariffs, and funeral plans. But does this activity compromise its ability to challenge the financial market and campaign for better service for older people? If you depend on your income from part of that financial sector, can you really be free from biased judgement? It compromises your position.
Perhaps that is the truth about Age UK and its commercial arm, Age UK Enterprises Ltd. Age UK Enterprise has an annual turnover of some £47.6 million. In 21014/15, they provided 482,000 home, travel and insurance policies tied to Ageas Insurance Ltd. Were these really the best deals for older people? And how can they be giving independent advice about this when they are earning from each Ageas policy? Age UK relies of the trust of those it represents.
Age UK Enterprises Ltd provided 'energy services' to 250,000 'customers' in 'collaboration' with E.ON from which they received some £6.3 million. These were not the best deals for many of those who bought into the Age UK tariff.
Age UK Enterprises Ltd provided 18,000 funeral plans in 2014/15 through one company Dignity PLC, generating income of £9.3 million. Were these the best available?
The list goes on.
There is a point when the independence of financial advice becomes compromised by the financial arrangement - when that advice becomes commercially beneficial to those giving the advice, and when the choices provided are limited by the way that advice is given.
It might be argued that the overall benefits by increased income to the charity outweighs the pitfalls of such enterprise. That is the utilitarian argument provided. But the argument from the duty of a charity to consider all those it represents should outweigh such utilitarian considerations. The threshold is set high by such duty of care.
Duty of care matters. Age UK failed in their duty of care when brokering the E,ON Age UK tariff. They become commercial beneficiaries.
Regarding their clients as 'customers' changed Age UK into sales representatives for an energy company. When I receive advice from a charity I want to believe they are acting in my best interest and not just their 'collective interest' as a social enterprise. Age UK cannot do that freely if they are tied in with commercial providers. That is the problem.
Working with commercial companies, giving advice to them on how best to make provision for older people is a different matter. That is what Age UK should do it if is representing all older people. It should campaign for change to provide better provision for older people. It cannot do that if it is tied commercially to one such private sector company.
Age UK need to stand back and reconsider its position and how it operates.
Please sign the petition calling on E.ON to refund customers misled over the Age UK tariff.