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Charitable clothing collections:
Problems and solutions

Notes

The main regulatory agencies to which we refer below are :

In researching the issues associated with charity collections, we've found most staff of regulatory agencies to be friendly, helpful and efficient.  Our comments below are meant as constructive, positive suggestions.

Note - There are many more suggested solutions to be found on other pages of the website.  See the drop-down menus at the top of most pages.

GENERAL POINTS

Published guidance on house-to-house collections

Central government (the Cabinet Office?, DCLG?) needs to issue detailed guidance to regulators on house-to-house collections - eg:

Collectors - collections on behalf of foreign "charities"/NGOs

Several collectors say they are collecting on behalf of a "charitable" organisation based abroad.  In practice some of these cannot be checked out.
(For example one company says it supports a Lithuanian breast cancer organisation.)

One solution would be to refuse to grant licences whenever it is impractical to ascertain :

  1. whether the "good cause" is genuine, and
  2. whether the partnership arrangement is satisfactory (eg percentage proceeds).

Guidance is needed on this from central government.

(Note:  Most people are happy with UK charities (eg Oxfam) helping good causes abroad.
The issue here is the lack of accountability if the organisation is based outside the UK - which makes fraud more likely.)

Registers and diaries of collection licences

Files of paperwork

Local councils should be required to keep formal registers of applications for charitable house-to-house collections.

Local councils should be required to :

There needs to be a central (national) register of applications for charitable house-to-house collections.

There needs to be a central (national) register of prosecutions of house-to-house collectors.

There needs to be a register of appeals made by collectors to the Cabinet Office in respect of licences.

There needs to be a register of revocations of licences under the 1939 Act.

All the proposed registers referred to above should be accessible by the public (online).
These should include :

For more on these issues, see :

House-to-house collection leaflets and bags

Details:  Collectors should be required to give details of their authorisation on their leaflets/bags - with statements such as :

We have obtained a licence for this charitable collection from the licensing department of your local council in accordance with the 'House to House Collections Act 1939'

or :

This charitable collection has been officially authorised - we have been granted a National Exemption Order (NEO) by the Cabinet Office under the 'House to House Collections Act 1939'.

See www.xxxx.gov.uk/xxxx/xxxx for the official List of charities which hold National Exemption Orders.

There are precedents in other fields.  For instance there are regulations requiring specific wording on physical objects and publications.  Examples:  Labelling of election pamphlets, health warnings on cigarette packets, food packaging.

Plastic collection bags

Many commentators have criticised the use of plastic collection bags (on environmental grounds).
There may be a case for banning them - insisting that only leaflets or self-adhesive labels are used.  The householder would provide the bag.
XStatistics: At present, only around 1 in 35 householders donate clothes per collection.  So 34 out of every 35 bags are wasted.

There are precedents with new legislation banning the use of free carrier bags by retailers.
For example see www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6789280.ece  

Charitable collections - liveried vans

Charitable collectors should be required to use liveried collection vans - with sign-writing which prominently displays details of the collector and the "good cause".

Enforcement/prosecutions

The maximum level of fines should be increased - eg regarding action under the 1939 Act.

Magistrates should give larger fines.  In two recent cases (January 2011) the collection companies were fined only £250 and £400 respectively (the maximum fine at the time was £1,000).

Under the CPRs and BPRs, the Office of Fair Trading and trading standards departments have strong powers to obtain legally-enforceable written undertakings from collectors who use misleading leaflets/bags.
However, these powers have only been used twice in 20 years (eg with Nicholas Rees in 2004, using the CMARs).
These powers should be used more often.
See the sections on the Office of Fair Trading and trading standards on the Regulators page.

Claiming full costs:  At present, many councils say they won't prosecute unlicensed collectors because of the costs.  So, there's a need to investigate whether councils could claim more costs off collectors who have been successfully prosecuted - eg to cover the full costs of investigation, interception, administration and legal services used.  Might it be possible to do this by civil action through the county court?
There are parallels here with "civil loss recovery" schemes operated by retailers (to recoup the cost of CCTV, security staff etc).

For more on these issues, see the following pages :

Other matters

Misuse of ".org" and ".org.uk" web addresses

For-profit (commercial) websites shouldn't be allowed to use ".org" or ".org.uk" suffixes in their names.  We suggest that this should be investigated (eg by Nominet).  For example, see our pages on the "www.AirAmbulanceService.org.uk" scam.
(Note:  ".gov" and ".gov.uk" suffixes are protected - only genuine government organisations are allowed to use these.)  See our page on:
Use (and misuse) of ".org.uk" web addresses (=not-for-profit domain names)

References to "CharityBags" (eg links):  Over 100 websites link to our site - eg MPs' websites, the BBC, newspapers, local councils and police forces.
For examples, see the Links to CharityBags.org.uk page.
However, a number of people have queried why virtually no central government website mentions us or links to us.  We too find this puzzling and disappointing.

Advice to the public

Warning triangle

Scrutiny:  Look carefully at the leaflet or bag.  Look at the following page for guidance :
How to tell if a clothing collection is genuine - a checklist

Don't donate clothes to purely-commercial collections (ie those where no good cause is mentioned).

Don't donate clothes to misleading or bogus charitable collections.

Don't donate clothes to poor-value charitable collections (eg only £50 per tonne of clothes).

Try to use only those collections where the goods go to a charity shop
- eg those which have the "Making the most of your collections" logo and mention the Charity Retail Association (CRA).  Example: British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Make sure that the collection is authorised - in other words :

Report unauthorised collections:  If you discover the collection isn't authorised, press the regulators to take action - ask them to investigate, intercept the collection and consider prosecuting the collectors.
The main regulators are :
- the licensing department of the local council
- the trading standards department (TSD) of the local council
- the police

Also, contact your local councillor(s) and the media.

Don't put high-value goods in your collection bag - eg antiques, jewellery, perfumes, CDs, DVDs, money.

Don't use collections which come on the same day as your council's kerbside rubbish collections.

Don't put your bag out overnight - wait until the morning (to reduce theft).

And finally . . . Preferably don't donate to royalty house-to-house collections at all !
Instead take the goods yourself to a charity shop.
This will raise around 50 times as much money for charity.
For details, see the homepage and Charity shops versus house-to-house collections page.

Monitoring and enforcement

At present, fewer than 1 in 10,000 unlicensed (illegal) "charitable" collections is subject to any enforcement action.

For details, see the Charitable collections: Licensing - monitoring and enforcement page.

There needs to be :

Example 1 - Bad news :  Minus icon

Example 2 - Good news :  Plus icon

Co-ordination and communication

There needs to be much more co-ordination and communication between the regulatory agencies.  At present they are often not co-operating and liaising effectively with each other.  This problem has several dimensions :

Training

There needs to be more (and better) training of staff in the regulatory agencies regarding the rules on charity collections and the various organisations involved in controlling them.

Example 1 - We spoke to several (well-meaning) professional trading standards officers who were unaware that charity collections require licences at all!  Accordingly their press releases warning of bogus collections made no reference to local council licensing departments, the Cabinet Office or the police.

Example 2 - We've spoken to police officers who had no idea of the rules or agencies involved, and (incorrectly) thought that it was a civil (not criminal) matter.

Example 3 - Some local council licensing officers showed a crucial lack of knowledge of the rules - one (helpful) officer assured us that collections of money were his responsibility but collections of goods (clothing etc) came under Home Office [now Cabinet Office] control (see Law for the correct rules).  When we pointed out his error, he conceded that he been giving his incorrect advice to people for several years.  To his credit, he promised to speak to his council's solicitors urgently and change his department's policy.

Example 4 - A number of licensing officers insisted (incorrectly) that only collections of money required licensing - goods (clothes etc) were not covered by any regulator, they said.

Example 5 - There is a widespread misunderstanding concerning the National Exemption Orders granted to certain charities (by the Home Office until 2006, and subsequently by the Cabinet Office).  Some councils we spoke to didn't have copies (or up-to-date copies) of the List of charities with National Exemption Orders and had been unsuccessful in finding out how to get hold of a copy.  See also the section on the Exemption Orders List below.

The need for a single lead organisation

There is a need for a single lead organisation to provide a focus for the issues, share information, carry out research, disseminate it and co-ordinate action.  This could be either an existing regulatory body or a new one.

This approach has been followed in other fields - for instance police forces co-operate via the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and Police National Computer (PNC).

We are pleased to hear that the Charity Commission has appointed an officer to investigate charitable clothing collections.  This should help.

See also the Charity Commission's report on door-to-door clothing collections.

See the Regulators page for details of the numerous organisations currently involved in controlling house-to-house collections.

Public awareness

Group of people (Oxfam charity)

There is an urgent need to increase public awareness of the issues to do with charity collections - especially bogus and poor-value collections.

Leaflets - It would help if (free) leaflets, posters etc were produced on the subject, and distributed via government offices, public libraries, citizens advice bureaux (CABs) and so on.  This is done for many other consumer protection issues.  For example, see the websites of the OFT, Citizens Advice consumer service and Trading Standards Central (details on the List of organisations and resources page).

The media has been helpful in publicising the issue - including newspapers and the BBC Watchdog programme - see the examples on the site - eg bogus collections.

Some local authorities have issued press releases, warning of bogus collections and/or put information on their website, such as Wolverhampton City Council.

One of the crucial recommendations in the Charity Commission's report on charitable door-to-door collections (paragraph 30) is the need to increase public awareness concerning fraudulent collections.  This is part of the Commission's Safer Giving campaign.

One of the main aims of the CharityBags website is to increase public awareness.

Poor-value charitable collections

Most monitoring and enforcement efforts have gone into stopping bogus collections (such as those by "Gotham").  However, we feel that poor-value charitable collections need to be scrutinised much more closely.  These involve questionable charity/commercial partnerships, in which :

For details see Donations and collections and examples of poor-value collections.

Local council licensing departments have widely varying views on the legality of these collections.  Some councils seem wholly unaware of the economics of these collections - especially when compared with collections where the goods go to charity shops (this raises a lot more income for the charities).

Some councils seem to be licensing poor-value collections simply because large, well-known charities are involved.  We feel they may be forgetting the licensing rule which requires a substantial proportion of proceeds to go to the charity, not to the commercial partner.  Why should this rule be applied only to collections of money - and not clothes etc?

Reform of the law

See the Charity law reforms page for information on the Government's plans, including the Charities Act 2006.

Good news :
Publicising the List of charities with National Exemption Orders (NEOs)

The National Exemption Orders List consists of the 43 or so charities which are exempt from licensing under the House to House Collections Act 1939.  Knowing which charities are on the List is crucial when anyone tries to find out whether a 'charitable' clothing collection is authorised.  ('Authorised' here means that it has either a local council licence or a national Exemption.)

In 2002 we tried to get a copy of the List from the Whitehall department responsible (the Home Office).  Initially they told us they were unable to send it to us because it was 'confidential'.  We questioned this (referring to freedom of information (FoI) rules) and the department agreed that the List of Exemption Orders is a public register (and sent us a copy).

We asked why the List was not available on the web, and explained the advantages to everyone of having it online. There were many precedents - such as the Register of Charities and the Register of Companies.  Having the List on the web would be an easy and extremely cheap way of disseminating the information.  Indeed it would save costs, by largely eliminating the need to send out copies (paper or email) on request to individual enquirers.

The Home Office declined to do this.  However, they kindly agreed to us placing a copy of the List on the CharityBags website.

Good news

Around 2006 the List of Exemption Orders at last appeared on a government website - the Cabinet Office   (The Cabinet Office had taken over responsibility for charities from the Home Office.)  The appearance of the List on the web was a welcome improvement.

Accordingly :

Good news :
Acts and Regulations on the Internet

Coat of arms of UK

In 2003 we pointed out that it would help if the Government published more Acts and Regulations on the Internet.  At the time, only laws passed after about 1988 were available on the Government's HMSO / OPSI website.  Yet almost all legislation relating to charitable collections was passed before this date.

To help matters, we placed a copy of the 1939 Act on our website, together with a summary of the 1947 Regulations.

Good news

The UK Statute Law Database   website was launched around 2006.  This included the 1939 Act, fully searchable.  Later, the legislation was transferred to the www.legislation.gov.uk   website.  See our introductory page on the 1939 Act for details.

 

Metropolitan Police blue lamp - Covent Garden (London)
 
Metropolitan Police blue lamp - Covent Garden (London)