For decades they have provided a confidential listening service for those on the edge of despair or contemplating suicide.
But changes to the Samaritans’ long established promise “to keep what you say between us” have sparked a mutiny among volunteers over fears that vulnerable people could be deterred from calling them.
The charity’s new rules on confidentiality instruct volunteers to warn callers their details may be passed to the emergency services or social workers if they are under 13 or a “vulnerable” teenager or adult deemed to be at significant risk.
The Samaritans say the changes, introduced by its governing body last month, are a clarification of its existing rules outlining when confidentiality can be breached and were introduced to keep it in line with “good practice in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults”.
But volunteers say it will transform their role from that of a confidential “listening friend”, to someone regarded by potential callers as part of the welfare and social services establishment which may have already failed them in the past.