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 Examples of poor value for money were quoted, which within days lead to the deal being withdrawn.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 !