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Charitable collections :
Licensing by local councils - applications for licences

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Introduction

House to House Collections Act 1939 - title page (Crown copyright HMSO)

On the page dealing with the Law on house-to-house collections we've described the House to House Collections Act 1939 and how it regulates charitable house-to-house collections.  Here's a quick summary . . .

The Act applies to all of England and Wales.

Under the Act, all charitable house-to-house collections (of cash, clothes or whatever) require a licence from the licensing department of the local council.  There are two main exceptions :

  1. In Greater London, the police are responsible for the licensing (not councils).
  2. Around 43 large charities (eg Oxfam) have 'National Exemption Orders' (so they don't need local council licences).

Charitable collections are just one of many activities which are dealt with by the licensing departments of local councils.  They also license taxis, alcohol, entertainment, gambling, pet shops etc - see the page on other licensing regimes.

Dealing with applications for charitable collection licences

Under the 1939 Act, anyone wanting to carry out a collection has to get a licence off the council beforehand (otherwise it would be unlicensed - and illegal).
There's no fee for submitting an application.

Application forms - First, the collector submits a written application for a licence to the council(s) concerned.  Most councils have produced a standard application form for this purpose.  Usually these can be downloaded from their websites (eg as Acrobat PDF files).

Files

Processing the applications - summary

Requests for more information - Councils may defer a decision because they feel the information supplied by the applicant is inadequate.  They write back to the applicant specifying what else is needed.  Sometimes this happens with dubious collectors who (for example) don't say what proportion of the proceeds will go to the good cause.  If the applicant fails to supply this information, the council can refuse the application - citing lack of information as the reason.  Alternatively, the collector may withdraw his application.

Approval or refusal - who decides?

Refusal - If a council refuses an application, they'll give their reasons.
The collector has 14 days to appeal to the Secretary of State (central government). Since 2006 this has been the minister at the Cabinet Office.

Approval - If a council approves an application, the collector has to follow certain procedures - mostly designed to minimise fraud.

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Returns (accounts) - After a collection takes place, the collector has to supply the council with details (accounts) - such as :

This is straightforward with cash collections - but it's more difficult with clothing collections.  Some council websites have a downloadable "returns" form for collectors to use.  Some now allow you to complete the form online.

Paperwork - Each licence application generates paperwork.  So, many councils use a folder for each application.  Councils may keep the paperwork for several years.

A small (but increasing) number of councils have converted to electronic storage - they scan licence correspondence and use optical character recognition (OCR) software.

Licensing partnerships

In some areas, councils have joined together to set up licensing partnerships.  These process applications for several councils.  This allows them to have more sophisticated systems and reduces costs.

An example is Northamptonshire - where five of the seven district councils belong to the 'Northamptonshire Licensing Partnership'  .  The website has a searchable Public Register.  Most of it deals with the Licensing Act 2003 (alcohol) and the Gambling Act 2005.  However, there's a category called 'Misc Environmental Health Licensing' - which includes house-to-house (and street) collections.  Below is the entry for a Clothes Aid application of 2008 :

Northants Licensing Partnership - application search details - House to house collections - HTH/2008/0051 Clothes Aid entry

'HTH' above stands for house to house.  'ENC' stands for East Northants Council.

Councils' registers of collections

Almost all councils keep a register (list) of applications for collection licences.  Most of these registers are computerised.

For details - please see the page on registers of applications for collection licences.

Also see the page on Freedom of Information (FoI) and open government.

Calendar

Councils' diaries of collection licences

Almost all councils keep a diary of current/future collection licences.  Some of these are on their websites (eg Bedford Borough Council, East Northamptonshire Council, Selby District Council).

See the page: Councils' diaries of collection licences.

Monitoring of collections, enforcement and prosecution

Councils are required to take adequate steps to monitor charitable collections which take place in their area.  Where this reveals problems, the council can take enforcement action, including prosecution.

For more on this - see these pages :