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Clothing collections :
Myths and misunderstandings
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Rutex Ltd - illegal clothing collection leaflet
We've encountered lots of myths and misunderstandings to do with clothing collections. On this page we outline some of them and put the record straight.
Many people don't know the rules about clothing collections. But at least they realise this - and they make efforts to find out the answers. But a myth is more dangerous. With a myth, the person thinks they know the answer and may act on this. But their understanding of the position is incorrect.
For example, we've come across many (well-meaning) officials in government who have misunderstood the rules - and have been applying them inappropriately for years.
- For instance, in one Midlands county we found that three of the six district council licensing departments were telling charitable collectors (in error) that they didn't need a licence under the 1939 Act - because they were collecting clothing (not money). Because of this mistake, charities were losing £1,000's - for example because misleading/bogus collectors were able to continue without being stopped by the councils.
- On six occasions we rang a large licensing authority to ask about licensing of charitable house-to-house collections. Each time, they told us (incorrectly) that they weren't responsible for licensing of collections. They suggested various organisations who they thought did the licensing (such as the Charity Commission). With three of these calls we queried it and asked them to check with a supervisor. In all cases the supervisor got it wrong as well.
If you look at the websites of the regulators (both central and local government) - you'll find blatant errors on some of them - concerning collections. For example, more than 20 council licensing websites state (incorrectly) that Exemption Orders are granted by the Charity Commission. (They're actually granted by the Cabinet Office.)
To be fair, there has been very little published guidance available on collections, and not enough training of staff.
This was one of the reasons why we set up the CharityBags website - so it could provide more (and better) information on the subject.
This page has some similarity with an FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page.
All the topics mentioned on this page are explained in more detail elsewhere on the site.
For more information :
- See the drop-down menus - for a full list of all the pages.
- See the Statistics page.
For more information, see the pages on collections on the drop-down menus.
"House-to-house collections of clothes don't need a licence."
Incorrect. The 1939 Act covers collections of "money or other property ...".
"Other property" means any goods (eg clothes).
"All house-to-house collections need a licence."
- They don't need a licence if they make it clear that it's a commercial collection (in other words if it's conducted solely for private profit).
- A collection only needs a licence if it's "a collection for a charitable purpose".
" 'Charitable purpose' means any charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose, whether or not the purpose is charitable within the meaning of any rule of law." (source: section 11(1) of the 1939 Act)
"A house-to-house collection doesn't need a licence if they mention they're a commercial company."
Yes and No :
- Correct - if they make it clear that it's solely commercial (see above).
- But they may well need a licence if it's a "hybrid" (misleading) collection - ie when :
- it gives a strong indication that it's in aid of a charitable, philanthropic or benevolent purpose, but
- indicates in the small print that they're a commercial company, collecting for private gain. (In other words, they can't have their cake and eat it.)
See the page: Does it need a collection licence? (including hybrid collections).
"Charitable house-to-house collections need a permit."
- Yes - in the general sense that they need authorisation (ie permission).
- But No - regarding the exact word - the 1939 Act refers to a "licence" (not a permit). ("Permit" is the word used with street collections.)
"Charitable house-to-house collections need a licence."
- Yes - if by this you mean that they need authorisation (eg a licence).
- But No - in the sense that the 1939 Act gives collectors two alternative ways to get authorisation:
- a licence - from the local council, or
- a National Exemption Order (NEO) - from central government (currently the Cabinet Office)
(The word "exemption" is used because it means they don't need to get licences.)
"House-to-house collections only need a licence if they mention a charity."
Incorrect. They need a licence if they purport to be collecting in aid of any charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose - irrespective of whether it's a charity (see the quote from the 1939 Act above). It more or less means any "good cause".
"A 'Licence' or a 'license'? - surely you spell the word with an 's' in it?"
OK - there is an "s" in "licensing", "licensed", "licensee" etc.
But a "licence" (noun) is spelt with a "c" in British English.
(Note: The Americans use an "s" in it.)
You get the same issue of the letter "c" versus "s" with advice versus advisor/advising etc.
"The police are responsible for licensing house-to-house collections."
Yes - in London.
No - outside of London. The police were responsible between 1939 and 1974.
But in 1974 this responsibility was transferred to the licensing departments of local councils.
"The police are responsible for licensing house-to-house (and street) collections in London."
Yes - but with one minor exception ...
- It certainly was the case between 1939 and 1974.
- . . . And it's still the case for 99% of London (the Metropolitan Police area).
- The exception is the "City of London" (this is the small area around containing the Bank of England, St Paul's Cathedral and the Barbican in Central London, known as the "Square Mile").
In this area, the local council is the City of London Corporation. They have their own police force (called the "City of London Police"). In 1974, licensing of collections was transferred from their police force to their licensing/trading standards department.
"Collection Exemption Orders are called Home Office Exemption Orders (HOEOs)."
- They were called this - until 2006.
- However, in 2006, responsibility for charity matters was transferred from the Home Office (HO) to the Cabinet Office (also in Whitehall, London).
So now they have no connection with the Home Office.
These days, most people refer to them as "National Exemption Orders" (NEOs).
"National Exemption Orders (NEOs) are dealt with by the Office of the Third Sector (the OTS) - which is part of the Cabinet Office."
This was true between 2006 and May 2010. But (in May 2010) the new coalition government abolished the Office of the Third Sector. However, NEOs are still dealt with by the Cabinet Office (in Whitehall).
"The rules for licensing house-to-house collections were changed around 2006 (by the Charities Act 2006)."
Yes and No :
- Yes - the 2006 Act does have a section on charitable collections - it outlines a new ("improved") system.
- However, this section hasn't yet been implemented (no 'Commencement Order' has been issued by Parliament).
So the provisions of the 1939 (and 1916) Acts still apply (as at July 2013).
"The vast majority of house-to-house collections are genuine."
This phrase is used on some council websites - to give reassurance.
It's incorrect. See the Statistics page for an estimate of the true figure.
"You can check what licences have been issued by looking on the Internet."
No. So far, only a few councils have put information about collection licences on the Internet. See the page called: Councils' diaries of collection licences
"Each council's list of licence applications is confidential."
No. It's public information. If you have problems accessing it, quote the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.
"Clothes which are collected house-to-house go to charity shops."
No. With most collections, the clothes are sold commercially. They're exported - especially to Eastern Europe and Africa. A small royalty payment (eg £50 per tonne) is paid to the charity (see below).
See the Statistics page for an estimate of the percentage of collections where the goods go to charity shops.
"The company say they'll donate to the good cause £50 for every tonne of clothing they collect. That sounds generous."
No. A tonne of clothes is a lot of clothes. A tonne is 1,000 kilogram (kg). So, £50 per tonne means that 1 kilogram (=2.2lb) only raises around 5 pence. This is a fraction of what would be raised (for the good cause) if you take the clothes to a charity shop. For more on this, see :
A typical item of clothing weighs around 0.5 to 1 kilogram (eg trousers or a dress).
(By the way, 1 tonne is the weight of an average car.)
"The collection company says they'll donate (say) £100,000 a year to the charity - surely that's great?"
Not necessarily. The key questions are:
- How many tonnes of clothes will they collect?
How much money will they donate per tonne?
What are their costs?
How much profit will the company keep for itself?
- How much more money would have been raised by the charity if the clothes had gone to charity shops? - typically it's around 50 times more !
"Clothes Aid is a charity."
No. Clothes Aid is a for-profit, commercial company, with local franchises.
It works in partnership with registered charities, passing on to them a proportion of its profits.
See the page on Clothes Aid
Inside a clothing collection van
"The collection van must be from the charity - it has their name on it."
Alas, no. Most clothing collection vans are owned, staffed and operated by commercial companies. They have partnership agreements (contracts) with the charity concerned. The charity allows the company to put the charity's details on the sides of their vans. In return, the company gives some of its profits to the charity.
"Surely most misleading / bogus / unlicensed collections are stopped and the collectors are prosecuted."
No. It's been estimated recently that fewer than 1 in 10,000 illegal clothing collections in the UK is subject to enforcement action/prosecution by the local council - in other words less than 0.01%.
"The regulator says the collection is misleading but it's not against the law - so it can't be stopped."
Sometimes this is correct. But often it's not correct :
- The main regulators here are council licensing, council trading standards, the police and the Charity Commission. Unfortunately, often they're only talking about their own powers/laws. Other regulators do enforcement using different laws, eg :
- council licensing departments use the House to House Collections Act 1939
- trading standards use the Consumer Protection Regulations and the Fraud Act
- the police may rely on the Fraud Act
- 'Company Investigations' (part of BIS) use the Companies Acts
- So :
- Yes, some misleading collections are difficult (or impossible) to stop using (say) police fraud powers.
- However, if the collectors are purporting to be collecting in aid of a good cause, they need a licence under the 1939 Act. This is enforced by council licensing officers (not by the police or trading standards) - and they don't have to prove the collection is misleading/fraudulent.
- Often we've found that a regulator is unaware of other agencies which also have powers to stop collections. For instance many (well-meaning) trading standards officers and police officers are unaware of the 1939 Act and council licensing. Also, this problem applied to call-centre staff operating the "Consumer Direct" trading standards telephone helpline.
- Also, we've found an alarming number of regulators who don't properly understand their own enforcement powers - especially some council licensing departments.
"The Charity Commission can take action against misleading or bogus collectors."
No. The Commission say their powers only relate to charities.
So if a collector isn't a charity, the Commission say they can't do anything about it. *
"The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is a government agency."
No. It's a 'self-regulating trade body' - a not-for-profit, private sector organisation funded by a levy (of 0.1%) on advertisers. It's a limited company. It's not part of government. So the end of the ASA's web address isn't '.gov.uk' (it's '.org.uk').
This status makes it unique amongst the regulators we describe who are involved with controlling collections (see the Regulators page). All the others are part of government.
"The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can take action against misleading collectors."
Yes and No :
The ASA publishes adjudications (=its verdicts) on adverts which have been the subject of complaints - eg clothing collection leaflets.
However, the ASA has no involvement with law courts - and it has no powers to sue, prosecute, fine or imprison the "offenders". For more on this, see the page on the ASA.
"The police can't prosecute thieves who take filled bags of clothes before the official collectors arrive."
Untrue. Recent guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says that it's theft and the culprits can be prosecuted by the police - even if the bag was on the pavement, verge or road (rather than on private property). See the Theft of bags page.
For more information, see the page on charities
"It's called the 'Charities Commission'."
No. It's called the "Charity Commission" (singular).
"The Charity Commission deals with all of Britain (or all the UK)."
No. It only deals with England and Wales.
It doesn't cover Scotland or Northern Ireland.
"All charities are registered charities."
No. Charities with an income of £5,000 or less (and some others) don't have to register. (However, they still need to abide by charity law - and almost all are regulated by the Charity Commission.)
"A charity can't be a company."
- Many charities are also companies (albeit not-for-profit).
- Also, some charities have trading subsidiaries. These are usually companies.
Example: The Salvation Army (charity) and its subsidiary (SATCO)
"The name of their website ends with '.org.uk' - so it must be a not-for-profit organisation like a charity."
Incorrect. Unfortunately (at present) Nominet allows anyone to buy an ".org.uk" web address.
See our page: Use (and misuse) of '.org.uk' web addresses
For more information, see the page on charity shops
"The staff in charity shops are paid employees."
No (with some exceptions) :
Until the 1980s, ALL the staff were volunteers (unpaid).
Nowadays this is still the case with over 90% of the staff.
However, some shops have a paid manager. This person has professional experience of retail. This increases sales and profits - and more than pays for his/her salary.
"Charity shops can't take donations of electrical goods."
Yes and No :
- Low-voltage electrical goods: These are items which don't have a 13-amp mains plug - like battery-powered torches, toys, clocks, computer keyboards, mice, USB-powered devices.
ALL charity shops can take these and sell them (without testing).
- Mains-powered electrical goods: These can be sold too - if they've been tested first for safety.
Some charity shops have the skilled staff (and equipment) to do this.
See the Charity shops page for more on this.
"If you take your donated items direct to a charity shop, it costs you time and money."
Not necessarily. It costs you more-or-less nothing if you get in the habit of saving up the items until you next go into town (shopping, visiting your bank, hairdresser, library etc).
"If a charity shop can't sell an item of donated clothing, it costs them to get rid of it."
No (in most cases).
Most charity shops sell unsaleable items to 'rag merchants'. They get several hundred pounds per tonne. See the Statistics page for the typical figure.