“Brand Age UK”

Not too many years ago the two leading brands related to age in the UK were all about old age, frailty and people “in need”.   Help The Aged was the main campaigning voice for the sector and Age Concern provided support and advice in local branches all over the UK.    Both organisations did sterling work, but we’re held back by limited resources and terrible brand names.   The emphasis on  ‘help’ and ‘concern’  portrayed  older people as old, past-it and helpfulness.

Then in 2009 in a long overdue move, the two charity’s merged into a new organisation called “Age UK” .   Their new chief executive – Tom Wright – was recruited from outside the charity/voluntary sector and came with stronger commercial experience  having previously run the tourist organisation “Visit Britain” .      He set about building  a much more positive image of ageing and a much sounder financial base for the new brand.

Age UK annual income is around £90 million  and has a broad financial base of charitable donations, grants, retail income from shops and commercial activity.   It is this latter source of funds that has brought them to the attention of the national press and other news media in the last two weeks.

At the beginning of February Age UK found itself in the shining headlines of The Sun newspaper, as a result of an investigation carried out into a commission deal with EON to promote ‘low energy costs’.  The accusation was that Age UK  were making £6million by promoting a far from good value energy supply to older people.    OOPS !

Shortly to be followed by  the host of catch-up  copy cat media, publicity seeking politicians and ever belatedly but always wise after the event regulators.  In no time at all Age UK got more publicity than they could ever wish for !    They immediately went on the defensive and denied any wrong doing, but that just provoked more investigation.   Examples of poor value for money were quoted, which within days lead to the deal being withdrawn.    Now other services recommended by Age UK including car, travel and home contents insurance are being questioned.   Wait until they look at equity release, mobility scooters and burial insurance.    The subsequent evaluations will check the value for money and the commission Age UK receives, which run into millions of pounds.

There is no question that Age UK went into these arrangements with the best of intentions, nor can one doubt the need for  a trusted referral service in an area where there can be a minefield of small print for elderly people to comprehend.     Sadly all the publicity will have done considerable damage to Age UK’s reputation.   To recover from it all they will need to be much more transparent about their commission arrangements in future and much more vigilant in ensuring that their services remain competitive.

Brand Age UK needs a bandage !

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4 Responses to “Brand Age UK”

  1. Alex Robinson says:

    Excellent article John.

    Whilst most people would agree that AgeUK has excellent motives, I think it is high time that they sharpened their act along the lines you suggest. Let’s hope the recent publicity will encourage them to do so.

    • john graham says:

      Thanks Alex, I couldn’t agree more.
      Sadly, if you look at their latest press release and the new video on the Age UK website, their apology is still defensive and continues to argue that the EON deal is still good value. Somewhat surprising therefore that the deal was withdrawn only a few days later.
      I think they should hold their hands up and accept that they did not get it right as energy prices changed.
      In the next few days I will republish two earlier blogs that forewarned about the need for caution and transparency when partnering with commercial organisations.

  2. davidwfreeman237 says:

    A very interesting post, extremely thought provoking, with direct respect to the Age UK website, as I addressed the above issues highlighted today, both in the Grumblesmiles blog, and the actual age uk website.


    In general information and pointers are there to view: detailed information appears only to be available, by referring to sub sites, run by either official government agency sites ( DWP- on benefits, pensions), monies/finance insurance-motor house and other products-travel. Then a finance site/icon on advice- questions asked about equitity release from properties etc.

    All the information is general, and if one wished to asked particular information, or indeed invoke a self- calculator of personal expenses, income/outgoing, one has to sign on to a web site run by a contractor, with all the relevant personal details. There is no way one can consider one’s own personal expenditure, and make or submit a more direct questionnaire when one realises, the information one lacks.

    Again being a little cynical I find that the ‘Age Concern UK’ web site, if my interpretation is correct on an initial , ‘’scan read’’ pushed more towards asking for donations, and using the associated moneyed/financial products, to help support the alleged services of AGE UK. However the advice and services highlighted, are not in detail, but in general terms, and it is very unclear how services are provided.

    One major problem I have noted is that, while accommodation for the elder citizen could be a matter of concern with respect to health, spouse survival, and the possible resultant income from a surviving pension/benefits/allowances especially if ones health is a subject of concern.

    What is missing is that AGE UK advise ‘what IF’ life becomes a serious problem, for any of the above concerns! There is no consideration with respect to advice on retirement planning, from points of view that one has to face maybe some 15-20 years after retirement at an age of say 60/5. Here one has to consider the cost of housing- rent-upkeep- mortgage payments- and savings?

    For instance what is one’s prognosis for say a year on home care- or how much does the various levels of home care/nursing care cost, and does one need to future plan, a sum which can be realistic! This is important as the state welfare cannot or may not provide the cover one expects/demands, or even desires?

    One can dream, but the state can appear be cold and calculating, under certain circumstances.

    Regards, David Freeman.

    • john graham says:

      Well done David you have obviously taken quite a time to look at this carefully.
      I agree that the Age UK website is not very easy to follow. The information is all there somewhere, but you have to navigate through fog to find things. The pathways are not clearly signposted and links to external sites are not obvious.
      I think this could lead people to assume they are buying directly from Age UK, when in fact you are dealing with an outside supplier.

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