Oxfam suspends pounds 2.21-a-call line

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OXFAM confirmed yesterday that it had suspended a Rwanda crisis hotline for which it was paying pounds 2.21 per call, writes Tim Kelsey.

The charity defended the cost of the telephone service, which was not advertised to donors, stating that it would not otherwise have been able to cope with the volume of calls. The decision to axe it was taken some days ago and was not related to cost, it said.

Labour has called on the Government to investigate the cost to charities of obtaining credit-card donations. Charity commission guidelines allow private companies to charge to their costs up to 7 per cent of funds raised.

Oxfam said yesterday that it was being charged pounds 2.21 per caller by a telephone company, which administered donations following a campaign of Rwanda appeals on radio stations. A spokeswoman said that the cost reflected the expense of having calls answered live. Oxfam decided to contract-in the live service because of the volume of calls anticipated and the need for accuracy in recording donor details. Oxfam reckons about 30 per cent of callers to answering machines leave inaccurate information.

'A decision has now been taken to end that service, because the volume from that appeal is slowing up,' she said. 'We only use an outside answering service if there is a huge bulk of calls. We would not incur charges if we didn't know that the appeal income would justify it. If we tried to answer all the calls ourselves, many people would not get through.'

Other donor hotlines, which employ an automatic answering service, remain open and because they are administered by Oxfam do not incur a fee.

The spokeswoman said that the charity averages the costs of fund- raising across all its sources. 'In this case, overall appeal income costs 4p in the pounds 1 from credit-card donations. That's all. Nobody is paying more than that.'