The founder of a soup kitchen that fell victim to an allegedly fraudulent fundraising company says the experience was “heartbreaking”.
Solomon Smith, who founded Brixton Soup Kitchen in 2013, says he was contacted by a company called Vertigo Child Solutions, who offered to fundraise for his charity.
Workers employed by Vertigo Child Solutions allege they’ve never been paid, and Smith says the soup kitchen didn’t receive any money.
“We get a lot of calls from people that might want to do a bit of fundraising,” Smith tells talkRADIO.
“We jumped for joy because for us, that is the only way we get money, we don’t get government support, we just rely on donations.
“When they called, I was like, ‘this sounds fantastic, could you guys send us some more information’ - information we’re still waiting for.”
'I think this is a fraud'
Solomon Smith. Image: Brixton Soup Kitchen
He alleges that Vertigo Child Solutions commenced fundraising without formally arranging it with him, and that they didn’t obtain any assets from the soup kitchen such as their charity registration number or logo.
“We didn’t hear anything back from them, so a month later, I’m hearing a lot of the employees saying, ‘we’ve been working for Vertigo Child Solutions and have those guys given you any money? Because we’ve not been paid’,” he says.
“We didn’t give them our logos, usually we have to give them hi-res logos, our charity number, and we didn’t give them the permission. We were getting more calls from employees saying they’d not been paid but had been on the streets doing nights, raising funds for our charity.
“That’s when I was like, I think this charity’s a fraud. So we just made sure we reported it to the police and the fundraising regulator.
"From the day they called me, I was trying to contact them and never getting a response. This is so heartbreaking."
The Metropolitan Police confirmed they had received a report.
“On 3 September 2018 police received reports alleging a group purporting to be a charitable organisation had fraudulently obtained money from members of the public,” they said in a statement.
“The offences are said to have taken place between 23 July and 31 August 2018.
“Officers from the North Area CID are investigating.
“No arrest have been made. Enquiries continue.”
'Robbed the homeless'
“They’ve not just robbed the charity, they’ve robbed from the homeless,” Smith added.
The alleged scam was uncovered by The Sun, who report that Vertigo Child Solutions has vacated its office in Whitechapel. It is registered on Companies House 25 Canada Square, a shared office building, but reporters from The Sun were told the company was not there when they attempted to make contact.
Employees were stationed around London with collection tins, and allege that the tins were ‘stuffed into a duffel bag’ at the end of the day by two men.
At first, workers would return to the Whitechapel office to hand over the tins after the working day, but when the offices closed down, they allege the men began meeting them in the street.
The workers that spoke to the Sun estimate that each collected between £1,500 and £3,500 over the month they worked for Vertigo Child Solutions.
'Never been a registered charity'
Smith urges caution for any other small charities approached by fundraisers.
“You first think, if someone wants to work for a charity, they’re genuine because they want to help and support,” he says.
“It’s easy for anyone to buy donation buckets and put charity numbers on the donation buckets to fundraise.
“We always say to charities, research the company that wants to fundraise for you.
“Make sure they have a company number, a charity number - all this information is open to the public.
“Check out their accounts, see how much they’ve raised, ask them questions - who have you fundraised for before, how much did you raise - those questions are not rude to ask.
“Because we’re working for charity and for the Charity Commission, everything has to be public knowledge.”
The Charity Commission told talkRADIO: "Vertigo Child Solutions is not and has never been a registered charity.
"It appears to be a limited company registered with Companies House. As such, they do not fall within our regulatory remit. If there are allegations of criminality, these are for the police to investigate."
Brixton Soup Kitchen is now crowdfunding for a full-time staff member, and Smith says the experience hasn't put him off fundraising.
"We can never give up. If we stop there we’re letting the homeless people down," he says.