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This preface applies to England (excluding Greater London) and Wales.
Question: When you receive a clothing collection leaflet or bag, you may want to check whether it's "genuine". Also (if it's misleading) you may want enforcement action taken against the collectors. So, who do you contact? :
Answer: We suggest you first contact your local council's licensing department. They have a unique role - they license charitable collections (using the little-known House to House Collections Act 1939). They can tell you whether the collection is licensed or not. If it's not licensed and if it's for a charitable cause, it's a straightforward "absolute" criminal offence - and the council can intercept the collection (usually with police help), and prosecute the collectors. Please note: the council does the investigation and prosecution - NOT the police.
The key point is that enforcement/prosecution is "easy" for the licensing department - they only have to prove two things in the magistrates court :
Compare this with the police and trading standards :
Nevertheless, we strongly encourage the police and trading standards to get involved as well.
See our List of prosecutions page for examples of action taken against misleading collectors.
On the rest of this page, we give details of all the regulators which have some involvement with controlling clothing collections.
England and Wales in dark red
Please see the Government page for details of central and local government generally.
Please see the page on Collection law for details of the law relating to house-to-house collections - especially the House to House Collections Act 1939 and associated Regulations.
Please see the page on Charity law reforms for the planned changes relating to charitable collections, resulting from the Charities Act 2006.
See the Statistics page.
We mean the organisations (usually part of government) which have powers :
Regulators are sometimes referred to as "bodies", "authorities", "agencies", "enforcers" or "watchdogs".
'Traditional' crimes. With crimes like theft, burglary, robbery or violence - it's obvious - you contact the local police.
Suspicious 'charity' collections. Well, who do you contact? - it's a messy minefield. There's several types of organisation (regulator) which have powers to deal with these collections. But it's difficult to pick the correct organisation(s).
We've looked closely at the organisations which have a role in controlling house-to-house collections. We've identified :
We give details on each of these below.
This means that, wherever you live in England, there are up to six regulatory organisations dealing with collections.
This fragmentation of responsibility is confusing for people - it's unacceptable and it needs sorting out. It's a crucial factor in explaining why so many illegal house-to-house collections take place - which results in genuine charities losing millions of pounds each year - charities such as Age UK, Cancer Research UK, NSPCC and the RSPCA.
Few people - even in government - seem to know (1) what the rules are, and (2) who deals with the problems. We've often found that agencies :
Sometimes we in CharityBags end up explaining to them 'who does what'.
If you're sceptical of what we're saying, you can test it out :
Ironically, they rarely mention the most-appropriate regulator - which is your local council licensing department (who can use the powers in the 1939 Act).
We've tested this out many times (contacting the organisations). For example :
All these people were courteous, and no doubt they were all trying to be helpful - but it was a mess.
In the short term we can't simplify the arrangement of regulators. However, the problems could be reduced by :
Below we give a summary of who the regulators are, and what they're responsible for. We hope this will be helpful.
Note - Greater London: The part of this section which deals with charitable collections doesn't apply to Greater London - because the police are the licensing authority for collections in most of London - see the next section (the police) for details.
There are around 300 local councils with licensing departments (LDs) in England.
Many of these licensing departments are part of the council's environmental health department. Usually they have enforcement officers - who carry out inspections, investigations and (when appropriate) prosecutions.
The licensing departments license a variety of activities - including taxis, alcohol, public entertainment, gambling and pet shops. See the Licensing regimes page for details.
The 1939 Act - title page
Crown Copyright HMSO
These licensing departments are also responsible for licensing most charitable collections :
Our focus in CharityBags is on the second of these - house-to-house collections - and we concentrate on clothing collections.
The law controlling house-to-house collections is the House to House Collections Act 1939 - 'the 1939 Act'.
Licensed collections. The 1939 Act allows licensing departments to take action against licensed collectors if they act improperly. But such action is rare. Occasionally licences have been revoked.
Unlicensed collections. Council licensing departments can take enforcement action against them (by prosecuting them, in a magistrates court). The 1939 Act specifies the penalties - currently fines up to level 3, or up to 6 months in prison.
There are tens of thousands of unlicensed collections every year in the UK. However, prosecutions are very, very rare. Examples are :
For a full list of them, see the List of prosecutions of collectors page.
A few councils have told us that prosecutions under the 1939 Act should be done by the police (not the council). However, we've checked this carefully - and it's clear that the council should bring the prosecution.
Press releases. A number of councils have issued press releases warning people of the problem of bogus "charitable" house-to-house collections. Copies of some of these press releases are on our website, including Wolverhampton and West Lancashire. See the 'Examples of collections' heading on the drop-down menus.
Related pages :
See also the Cabinet Office (below) - eg National Exemption Orders (alternatives to licences).
See also local council trading standards departments (TSDs) - below.
There are around 40 territorial police forces in England.
Between 1939 and 1974, the police were responsible for licensing of charitable collections (using powers in the House to House Collections Act 1939 ="the 1939 Act").
However, in 1974, the 1939 Act was amended so that licensing of collections was transferred from the police to local council licensing departments (except in Greater London - see below).
The police can investigate and prosecute certain criminal activities relating to charitable house-to-house collections. For instance bogus collections can be considered "obtaining property by deception". The powers in the Theft Act and the Fraud Act can be used for example. In these cases, the prosecutions are brought under general police powers and are not connected to the 1939 Act.
In most of England, licensing of charitable collections is the responsibility of local council licensing departments (see the section above). However, in most of Greater London, the police are responsible. The arrangements are as follows :
Blue lamp - Covent Garden police station
The arrangements with the Metropolitan Police in Greater London have the advantage that there's no opportunity for confusion between the roles of (1) the licensing authority for charitable collections and (2) the police - because in this case they're both the same organisation.
With the Met Police, licensing of charitable collections is done by their Charities Office. This is operated by civilian administrative staff. www.met.police.uk/charities Unlike council licensing departments, this office only deals with two types of licence - namely :
(1) charitable house-to-house collections, and
(2) charitable street collections. It's the largest licensing authority in England regarding charitable collections.
At mid-2012, the Charities section of the Met's website includes :
For our comments on the Met's "Licences issued" web page, see the page called :
Councils' online diaries of collection licences
Van with stolen bags of clothing
Many police forces are now taking this issue more seriously - especially since the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published guidelines (around 2010)` confirming that it is theft and can be prosecuted.
With this theft, there's a specific, known, tangible victim - in other words, the charity which is named on the bag (eg Cancer Research UK, NSPCC, Oxfam, RSPCA). See the page on Thefts of filled collection bags.
Alas, some police forces are still not taking this issue seriously. There are several reasons for this :
There are around 150 trading standards departments in England - basically some county councils and all the unitary (=single-tier) councils.
They deal with consumer protection issues - relating to goods and services. For example they deal with faulty goods and weights and measures.
Trading standards departments can investigate certain aspects of house-to-house collections. In some cases they can prosecute. For example TSDs deal with misleading advertisements. The leaflets or bags delivered by house-to-house collectors are advertisements. So TSDs can investigate misleading aspects of these. These include any misleading references to charities or companies/businesses - such as bogus registration numbers, names or addresses. The Consumer Protection Regulations 2008 (the CPRs) are useful in these cases.
See also local council licensing departments (LDs) - above.
See also the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) - below.
See also the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) - below.
Website: www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk Logo (Crown copyright HMSO) :
The Cabinet Office :
Under the 1939 Act, the Cabinet Office is responsible for granting 'National Exemption Orders' to charities which want to carry out widespread house-to-house collections of money or goods (eg clothes). They're like a national collection licence. At present, around 43 charities have Exemption Orders (eg NSPCC, Oxfam, Scope). For details of National Exemption Orders see :
Under the 1939 Act, when a local council refuses to grant a licence to a collector, the collector can appeal. The appeal is made to the Secretary of State at the Cabinet Office.
Website: www.oft.gov.uk Logo (Crown copyright HMSO) :
The OFT deals with consumer matters - consumer law, trading practices, monopolies etc. It works closely with :
The 'Consumer Direct' 0845 telephone helpline was part of the OFT until 2012.
The OFT has some strong powers - but few of them apply to clothing collections.
The OFT has helped produce guidance on how to avoid bogus house-to-house charitable clothing collections. `*
Until 2008, the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988 (as amended)* (the "CMARs" for short) gave the OFT the power to demand undertakings from anyone who'd produced a misleading advertisement. The advertiser had to promise that he wouldn't use the ad again. This law had teeth - if the advertiser broke this undertaking (ie promise), he was in contempt of court - and could be fined or imprisoned. Clothing collection leaflets and bags are classified as "advertisements".
The OFT used these 1988 Regulations in 2004 in relation to Nicholas Rees - a clothing collector in Birmingham who was distributing leaflets referring to "Kosta Ltd" and "H.K.L. Charity" :
Statistics: In the House of Commons on 16 April 2007 , Jo Swinson MP asked :
"... the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many successful prosecutions there were of companies in breach of the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988 in each of the last five years; and in each case what breach took place. "
The Minister (Mr McCartney) replied:
"Information regarding prosecutions and breaches of the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988 can be found on the Consumer Regulations website, provided by the Office of Fair Trading, at www.crw.gov.uk [link fails at Nov 2010] This records five cases since 2003, all of which were dealt with through undertakings by the companies and relevant individuals rather than by prosecutions."
The 1988 Regulations regarding advertisements (referred to above) were repealed in 2008. They were replaced (on 26 May 2008) by:
However, we understand that these 2008 Regulations give the OFT (and council trading standards departments) similar powers to stop misleading advertisers.
- an attractively presented 88-page guidance report on the 2008 CPRs - by the OFT / BERR
We'd like to see these powers used more often by the OFT and trading standards departments in relation to misleading "advertisements" for clothing collections (ie the collection leaflets and bags).
Also see our Consumer issues page.
The Charity Commission is an independent central government agency, answerable to the Cabinet Office. It registers charities and monitors them.
The Charity Commission's website has a searchable index of all the 180,000 or so registered charities - the "online Register". You can use this to check out any house-to-house collection if you think it might be bogus. Please note it's called the 'Charity' (not Charities) Commission. It only deals with England and Wales.
Charities - dealing with any problems (eg fraud) :
The Commission are well aware of the problem of bogus 'charitable' house-to-house collections of clothing etc, and they've been investigating the issue. For example, see their 2003 report entitled 'Charity and door-to-door clothing collections'.
Scotland now has its own equivalent of the Charity Commission - called the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
See also the Charities page.
The ASA is a 'self-regulating trade body' - it's not part of government. It deals with complaints about advertising in the UK, including clothing collection leaflets and bags. The ASA can criticise advertisers (by upholding complaints) - but they can't take legal action in the courts.
For details, see the following pages :
See also: trading standards departments, Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
One of the responsibilities of this Agency is the control of wastes - their storage, treatment, transport, disposal etc.
With some exceptions, if you carry waste (ie transport it) in England and Wales, you need a "waste carriers licence" (WCL) from the Environment Agency. If you need the licence but haven't obtained one, you can be prosecuted.
At March 2011, a waste carriers licence costs £154. It lasts for three years.
However, If you're a charity or voluntary organisation, you can notify the Agency of your status and then you're exempt indefinitely from the need to get a waste carriers licence. There is no fee for this. It's known as a "notifiable exemption".
There's a nice searchable online register (database) of these licences on the Agency's website.
This question often arises. People (including us) have received conflicting legal advice on this. It's a grey area of law. The main issue is the definition of "waste".
At March 2011 (at last) we think we've got the definitive answer to this - from specialists in the Environment Agency (Peterborough) :
The logic for this is as follows. If householders put out unwanted goods for collection (eg bags of clothes etc) - with the intention of them being re-used in their existing form as second-hand items, they're not classified as waste. This applies :
We understand the key issue is whether the goods are likely to be re-used in their existing form. For instance with a donated woollen jumper - is the intention for it to be re-used by someone - wearing it as a jumper? If the answer is "yes", then it's not "waste" - and so the collector doesn't need a waste carriers licence.
Inevitably, some of the collected goods won't be suitable for re-use (eg they're damaged or too dirty). However, these aren't classified as "waste" until the collected items have been sorted, and the waste items identified and separated (eg at the collector's depot on an industrial estate). At this point these waste items are likely to go to one of two destinations :
Cautionary notes :
The organisations described above are the main bodies dealing with collections. However, in some circumstances other regulators can also have a role.
These include :
Organisations which are not part of government usually have no legal powers to take action against potential wrongdoers - for example Which? (formerly the Consumers' Association), which is an independent pressure group.
Also, organisations which only provide information and advice haven't got legal powers - for example Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs).