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Clothing collections :
Theft of filled bags

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Introduction

Van containing stolen charity bags - seized: Cardiff (courtesy of BBC)
Van containing stolen charity bags
seized: Cardiff (courtesy of BBC)

Theft of filled bags is a major problem - costing charities £ millions each year.  The key problem is the vulnerability of bags - they're on doorsteps, drives or public pavements for several hours, unsupervised, awaiting collection.

Worse still, some people put out their bags the evening before the collection day - thus increasing the risk.  See the Statistics page for figures on this.

The thieves fall into several categories :

What happens to the stolen bags?

Disposal in the UK :

With organised gangs, typically the clothes go abroad - especially to Eastern Europe (eg Lithuania and the Ukraine), by container-lorry.  There have been many reports of bags of clothes intended for British charities, being spotted in Eastern Europe and Africa.  Often the bags have the charity logo on them.

There's scope here for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to take a more active role at ports - stopping these cargoes.

Clothes Aid

See also the page on Clothes Aid.

Clothes Aid experiences serious problems with thefts of their filled bags.  Google lists dozens of items on this issue.

A useful article dealing with this, is on the LetsRecycle.com   website.

Clothes Aid has its own collection protection team (including motorcycle patrols) - which monitors collections, attempts to reduce thefts and tries to secure prosecutions.

Theft of bags - action by the police

In the past, often the police have been unwilling to prosecute clothing-bag thieves, even when overwhelming evidence has been given to them (eg by Clothes Aid).  However, things are improving.

Around 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published authoritative guidance for the police and courts - indicating that taking filled charity bags is theft   - so the culprits can be prosecuted.

Solutions

Taking clothes to charity shops (and to re-use/recycling centres)

Charity shop

The best way of reducing theft of bags is to avoid using house-to-house collections altogether - by taking your unwanted goods direct to a charity shop (or to a re-use/recycling centre).

When you take your unwanted clothes etc to a charity shop (during opening hours), there's no risk of the bags being interfered with or stolen.  Furthermore, this method usually maximises the proceeds raised for the good cause - raising pounds not pennies.

Recycling symbol

Taking your goods to a re-use/recycling centre (eg at supermarket car parks) is usually less risky than house-to-house collections, but there's still some risk of interference and theft.

For more on the pros and cons of using charity shops versus recycling centres versus collections, see these pages :

Credit cards   Coins

Theft of cash donations

This theft of clothing bags is similar to the problem of theft when donating cash (banknotes or coins) to charities - eg using collection tins, jars and envelopes.

The solution to this is to pay by a secure method - such as cheque, plastic card, direct payment (by online banking) or direct debit :

  • This radically reduces the risk of the money going astray.
    For example, even if your cheque is stolen, the thief usually can't cash it.
  • Also, it leaves evidence - an audit trail - in case things go wrong.

House-to-house collections - reducing the risks of theft

If you're unable to take your goods to a charity shop or recycling centre, you have to resort to using house-to-house collections.  There are several things that can be done to lessen the problems of collections.  We describe some of these below.

Some of these things can be done by the public who are donating the goods.  However, others require action by collectors and/or the regulators.

Don't put your bag out the night before

Wristwatch

Don't donate high-value goods (eg jewellery, CDs, DVDs)

Always bear in mind that your donation bag may be stolen.  So don't put small, high-value goods in collection bags.  For example, if they ask for jewellery, CDs, DVDs etc, resist the temptation to put them in the bag.  Instead, save them up for your next visit to the town centre - when you can give them to a charity shop.  And remember, NEVER put cash in a house-to-house collection bag.

The printing on bags

It helps if the bags are printed - rather than plain/anonymous.

Firstly it's important that the name of the collector and/or charity is given.

Secondly, it helps if the wording on the bag includes a prominent sentence like :

"This bag and its contents are the property of xxxx charity"

See the page on Collection leaflets, bags and labels for more on this.

Marking of vans - It helps if genuine collection vans are clearly (and permanently) marked with the name of the collector/charity, their logos, telephone numbers and web address.  This makes it easier for the public and the regulators.

Uniforms and badges - It helps if genuine collectors wear an identifiable uniform, and have ID badges.

Action needed

  • We feel the government should introduce regulations requiring genuine charitable collectors to comply with the examples of best practice outlined above.
  • We would encourage reputable collectors (eg charities) to follow these suggestions voluntarily now.

Theft of clothing bags - related pages