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Bogus charity clothing collections

Published Monday, June 12, 2017

Many charities legitimately collect unwanted items of clothing to raise funds for their cause. However, constituents sometimes raise concerns about organisations which appear to be collecting clothing for a charitable cause but are not in fact registered charities. Some people feel that they are being misled by advertising pamphlets. There have also been problems with the theft of clothing bags left out for collection.

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Clothing collections

Many charities legitimately collect unwanted items of clothing to raise funds for their cause. Some charities work with a commercial organisation to collect on their behalf.  It is generally necessary to seek a local authority licence before conducting a house-to-house collection for a charitable purpose.

Concerns have been raised about some organisations which appear to be collecting clothing for a charitable cause, but are not in fact doing so. Some people feel that they are being misled by charity bags, typically being distributed through letterboxes. Another problem is the theft of clothing bags.

The Charity Commission has issued advice on how to ensure donations go to a genuine charity.

Fundraising regulation

A new regulator, the Fundraising Regulator, which launched in July 2016, regulates all forms of fundraising by charities, and has taken over responsibility for the Code of Fundraising Practice (the Code) and its associated rule books. These outline the standards expected of all charitable fundraising organisations across the UK.

Consultation on new rule to deal with charity bags

In February 2017, the Fundraising Regulator launched a consultation on changes to the Code. The consultation period has now ended.  Among other things, the Fundraising Regulator proposed adding a new rule to the Code requiring organisations operating house-to-house bag collections for charitable purposes not to deliver bags to a property that displays a sticker or sign which includes either the words ‘no charity bags’ or ‘no junk mail’. 

Call for investigation of unlicensed collections

In February 2017, it was also reported that the NSPCC and Clothes Aid had written separately to the Fundraising Regulator calling for an investigation into unlicensed charity bag collections. A statement on the Clothes Aid website noted what it considered to be a lack of co‑ordinated action to enforce the licencing requirements.

In response, a spokesman for the Fundraising Regulator was quoted as saying that the Regulator was aware of the issues around charity bag fundraising but that some of the points raised by Clothes Aid and the NSPCC were a matter for the police and local authorities. The spokesman added that if charities and their appointed agents were not involved, it was less likely that there had been a breach of the Code.

New Advertising Standards Authority guidance

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. It applies the Advertising Codes, which are written by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP).

In March 2017, the CAP issued new guidance instructing private companies and individuals behind house-to-house charitable collection bags to ensure that they are “upfront and clear” with consumers about the nature of the service they provide. CAP said that it had issued guidance following a review of potentially misleading advertising practices by private door-to-door collection companies. In addition, the guidance was a response to an ASA ruling the previous year which found that a company’s charity collection bag did not make sufficiently clear the commercial nature of its business.

Companies were given until 2 June 2017 to bring their collection bags into line with the new guidance.

Shahriar Coupal, Director of the Committees, said that “No-one should feel duped into thinking they are donating directly to a charity if that’s not the case”.


Commons Briefing papers SN04638

Author: Catherine Fairbairn

Topic: Charities

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