Why people are accusing billionaire Richard Branson of making a profit from NHS donations

If you’ve been tagged in an Instagram story in the last week, you may have felt a sense of dread.

In the last month, a challenge to raise money for the NHS has popped up on social media – run 5K, donate £5 and tag five friends to do the same.

A Virgin Money giving page, set up by Run For Heroes, has raised over £2.6m for the NHS, and celebrities like Sir Mo Farah and Adwoa Aboah have taken part too.

People donate £5 to the Run for Heroes page on Virgin Money Giving, a not-for-profit company that was created by Virgin Money to raise funds for charities.

On social media, users seem to be under the (understandable) impression that Virgin Money and Virgin Money Giving are owned by Richard Branson, who has allegedly not paid personal income taxes since moving to the Virgin Islands 14 years ago, although he is a billionaire. Branson recently attracted criticism after asking for government bailouts for his Virgin Atlantic airline after asking staff to take unpaid leave.

Social media users are saying that Branson makes a profit from the donations that people have put in, although it’s not necessarily as straightforward as that.

On their fees page, Virgin Money Giving breaks down the cost of a £20 donation.

Out of the £20 donated, £0.90 is taken by Virgin as a payment processing fee and a platform fee. But other users have asked why Virgin Money hasn’t waived the processing fee in this case.

Virgin Money Giving has also since clarified that it doesn't make a profit on donations.

Virgin Money Giving has not been owned by Richard Branson since 2018.

But even though Branson himself might not be making a direct profit from donations, people have emphasised that these fundraisers raise Virgin’s profile (even if this specific company isn’t technically owned by him).

The difference is a technicality, but other social media users are also pointing out that Virgin Healthcare began legal action against the NHS in 2016 over a hospital contract in Surrey. Virgin Healthcare has also paid no tax on NHS deals which are worth over £2bn, as it operates at a loss.

The money raised by the Run For Heroes fundraiser will be given to to NHS Charities Together, which is a membership organisation for hospitals across the UK. NHS Charities Together have also created their own Virgin Money Giving page, which has raised over £27m.

Some Twitter users have suggested donating to local hospitals and charities instead, or using other platforms to donate money to the NHS. Others have pointed out that the NHS wouldn’t need to raise money if the Conservatives hadn’t underfunded it for years.

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