Diddling the doddery

Charles Cowling

changing hands


Doorstep scammers, con artists, cold callers, internet swindlers, rogue traders – these are just some of the predators that old people must learn to defend themselves against today. Besieged on all sides, they are. Who can they trust? Charities, surely?

Not Age UK for starters, love. Oh no, not them. Them least of all.

Yep, it’s all over today’s news. Age UK is revealed to have stitched a deal last year with energy giant E.ON to flog a special gas-and-leccy rate to 152,000 credulous coffin-dodgers.  The special rate, Age UK promised them, would “save energy and money”.  Emboldened by this endorsement, no fewer than 152,000 people signed up. They paid an average annual charge of £1,049. This was on average £245 more than E.ON’s cheapest rate in 2015. £245!

Who cares? There’s no fool like an old fool. Age UK chuckled all the way to the bank having trousered £6 million, some which it may even spend on updating its webpage Scams and fraud and include a section entitled Charity jackals.

The revelation certainly didn’t make Age UK think twice about the brass-necked prominence it is giving on its home page to its Cold Homes Week campaign: Age UK is calling on the Government to reform its energy efficiency programmes. Ha!

What the media failed to do in reporting this story was to record that Age UK has previous convictions in the matter of relieving its client group of its slender pensions. It is a serial offender.

In 2011 Age UK issued a grovelling press release in the wake of a FSA investigation into HSBC and its subsidiary Nursing Home Fees Agency (NHFA), with which Age UK, in its own words, “had a relationship”. Between 2005-10 NHFA missold bonds to cover long-term care costs. Clients, average age 83, were recommended to invest for 5 years — longer than they were expected to live. Under the circumstances, an ISA or a higher fixed interest rate savings account would have been a much better option. The FSA fined HSBC £10.5 million, and NHFA faced a compensation bill for £29.3 million.

*In 2013 The Times ran a story which began Britain’s largest charity for the elderly has been accused of short-changing pensioners by selling “peace of mind” funeral plans that leave bereaved families footing unexpected bills of hundreds of pounds. The piece concluded with this sorry story:

Ros Rhodes, 70, was shocked to receive a bill for more than £1,000 for her mother’s funeral, as she believed all costs would be covered by an Age UK funeral plan. Her 89-year-old mother had spent almost £3,000 on the plan 18 months previously.

The extra costs were even more perplexing because the undertaker’s account showed that he had been paid only £2,169 from Age UK — £571 less than her mother had paid the charity.

She says: “I have telephoned and written to Age UK to try and find why there was such a difference in the money paid in and the money paid out. I have been fobbed off with trust funds, expenses, inflation and other such terms that are of no real answer.”

After Age UK was contacted by Times Money it sent Mrs Rhodes a cheque for £750 as a goodwill gesture. The charity said that there had been a mix up with the bill and Mrs Rhodes should not have been charged so much, and also that she should not have seen the breakdown of the funeral director’s expenses. But Ros says had she not seen the breakdown, she would have never have queried the bill.

It is difficult for us to calculate how much money Age UK has minted from flogging Dignity funeral plans. When ITV were making that undercover investigation in 2012 they reckoned it was millions. That Age UK is ‘in a relationship’ with one of the most expensive funeral providers in the UK is nothing short of scandalous.


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David Holmes
5 years ago

I heard one of the bosses doing the media rounds this morning, I soon concluded that Age UK apparently has no shame, he claimed all the money they make helps the aged, presumably time prevented him explaining what the Director’s and Trustee’s annual remuneration is?

As an old journalist used to say, pass the sick bag Alice.

Vale 54
Vale 54
5 years ago

When I saw the press reports of the Eon deal with AgeUK my first thought was that the charity had form. Thank you for reminding us. Shameful.

Simon Lamb
Simon Lamb
5 years ago

The FT reports that Dignity paid Age UK £9.4 million as commission for the sale of 21 000 funeral plans – that equates to nearly £448 per plan and explains much of the shortfall experienced by Mrs Rhodes.