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The 1939 Act - Crown copyright HMSO
On the licence applications page we describe how councils process applications for collection licences under the House to House Collections Act 1939. Some councils see this as their only duty under the 1939 Act. However, they've misunderstood the Act. Licensing doesn't just involve administering an application process. Councils also have a legal duty to :
Monitoring involves :
There's two aspects to the work :
Councils monitor two types of charitable collections :
The single most useful thing a council can do here is to put their diary of charitable collection licences on their website - so the public know what's going on.
For details, see the page: Councils' online diaries of charitable collection licences
Urgency: Bear in mind that - if a council contemplates intercepting and prosecuting a collector - there's a gap of only about 1 to 2 days between being alerted by the delivery of the leaflets/bags and the day of the collection. So, it's crucial the council acts swiftly.
Plans: Good councils draw up plans to deal with unlicensed collections - establishing arrangements in advance (in conjunction with the police and trading standards) - so that all parties can react quickly and appropriately when needed. Indeed, a failure to do this could be seen as maladministration by the local government ombudsman.
Is it licensed (authorised)?: If licensing staff in a local council are alerted about a questionable charitable collection, they can say immediately if the collection is licensed (ie authorised). The collection is licensed if :
Does it need a licence?: This involves asking the question :
Is the collection :
"purporting to be for a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose" ?
(See the wording in the House to House Collections Act 1939.)
If the answer is 'yes', then it needs a licence.
Should you prosecute?: If a collection (1) hasn't got a licence, and (2) needs a licence - then it's illegal (a criminal offence). However, most councils don't prosecute automatically - they want to know more information about the collection first. For example is it :
Should you contact the collector (or charity)?: No! - Because it would alert them to the investigation - and it's likely the collector wouldn't carry out the collection. Then the council wouldn't be able to prosecute.
1. First, the council needs to examine the collection leaflet or bag in some detail :
For more on this, see the page: A checklist: How to tell if a collection leaflet/bag is genuine
2. The next task is to check online sources :
Often at this point it will still be unclear whether to prosecute.
3. There are a couple of national alerting services and forums for licensing staff. These may help. However, we understand they're of limited use at present in this context. We wish they could be improved. (Trading standards have better systems.)
Map of the UK
(England and Wales are in dark red)
4. Information from other councils: Ideally the council wants to know whether the licensing departments of other councils have come across this collector. Crucial questions include :
Concerning applications for collection licences :
Concerning unlicensed collections :
At present, councils can't easily find answers to any of these questions. They can contact a few nearby authorities, but it would take days to contact all the 300 or so licensing authorities in England and Wales.
For a start, councils need to be able to access the registers of other licensing departments (by computer) - but they can't do this at the moment.
This problem is seriously hampering enforcement. So charities are losing £ millions due to misleading and bogus clothing collections which councils are reluctant to stop.
For suggested solutions, please see the related pages called :
See also the page: List of prosecutions of collectors
If the council decides to take action against a collection, it's got to be intercepted on the collection day.
Day and time - Collection leaflets/bags specify the day of collection. However, they don't tell you the time they're coming - they just say (for example) 'between 8am and 5pm'.
Council staff - To intercept a collection, council staff have to be prepared to be on the collection route all day. On average, though, the collector will arrive around lunchtime - so the typical wait will be around 4 hours.
Police Sillitoe black-and-white chequer pattern
Police - Ideally the police would be present throughout. However, we've come across a compromise where the police were briefed in advance, and they agreed to attend immediately when they were called by council staff (by mobile phone) - once the collector was spotted. Collection vans drive slowly (eg 10mph), they stop frequently - and they stand out easily.
Help from the public - In one case, there was an arrangement where a member of the public (involved with the local Neighbourhood Watch / Home Watch scheme) offered to sit by her front window all day - and to ring the council (and police) when the collector passed. This resulted in the collector being apprehended.
Radio transmitters - In one innovative case, a miniature radio transmitter was placed in a collection bag in the street. As soon as the bag was collected, enforcement officers were able to locate the collector's van and follow it.
Van with stolen clothes
seized: Cardiff (courtesy of BBC)
Stopping the van - The 1939 Act (section 6) gives the police powers to require a collector to give them his personal details.
Interviews - Using powers under the Theft Acts, Fraud Act etc, the police can interview the collectors on the spot and/or take them to a local police station for interview under caution. They can then be charged if appropriate.
Often the bags of clothes can be seized. In certain circumstances, the van can be seized too.
Other offences may come to light whilst investigating the collectors.
In two cases, the collectors were found to be illegal immigrants (from Eastern Europe) and they were deported.
In other cases, there were vehicle offences - eg driving without insurance or bald tyres.
In South Yorkshire , the police stopped a van - as part of an operation targeting drivers that were flouting legislation in relation to the carriage of waste materials and those that deal in scrap metals. The van was found to contain numerous stolen charity clothing-collection bags as well.
The Royal Courts of Justice, Central London
Hover mouse over the image to ENLARGE ...
For examples (which used the 1939 Act) - see :
Normally, the prosecution is brought by the legal department of the council, using in-house lawyers. The case is heard in the local magistrates court. See the 1939 Act (as amended) for levels of fines (and imprisonment in extreme cases).
Costs - These can be claimed off the collectors.
Publicity - See the section below.
Prosecutions of collectors (under the 1939 Act) are extremely rare (see the List of prosecutions page for details).
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% (see the Statistics page).
This is an appallingly low figure and a sad reflection on the present regime. Genuine charities (such as Air Ambulances, Children's Society, NSPCC, Salvation Army, Cancer Research UK and RSPCA) are losing out badly because of this. So, people who are disabled, sick or terminally ill are failing to get the help they need - because of this inaction by many local councils.
It's especially sad because prosecution under the 1939 Act is relatively straightforward, inexpensive and the costs can be claimed off the collectors.
Furthermore, a successful prosecution is excellent publicity/public relations for a council - given the widespread public concern about misleading clothing collections. A prosecution is likely to get glowing front-page coverage in a local newspaper. For example see the page on clothing collections in the media - eg stories in the Daily Mirror.
There's a marked contrast between the approaches to enforcement and prosecution by council trading standards and council licensing departments :
See www.cardiff.gov.uk/objview.asp?Object_ID=1060& *
= "Licensing Enforcement Policy 2008-11 February 2010.pdf"
- a 7-page PDF document by Cardiff Council (South Wales) - dated 1 June 2008
Below are some extracts on the issue of illegal/bogus collections, and the need for enforcement and prosecution.
We've added the text that's in [square brackets] and the emboldening of text.
"A West Midlands-based children's charity has lost thousands of pounds in income due to a collection scam.
Fake Acorns Children's Hospice Trust collection bags have been distributed to households across the region, with a private firm collecting the donations.
Janice McPherson, manager of an Acorns hospice [charity] shop in Dudley, said: "Stock levels are critical and by Wednesday we will have no clothes left to sell."
The legitimate Acorns collection bags are white, the fake ones are yellow."
[This Paper includes two references to www.CharityBags.org.uk ]
"We will also continue to encourage enforcement of the legislation. . . .
I congratulate Cardiff council [licensing] on taking that prosecution [using the 1939 Act]. A £750 fine is significant for those who are involved in such illegal activities, and I will certainly talk to my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government [DCLG] to see how we can work to together to encourage local authorities to enforce their current powers."
Tracey Crouch MP: "... If I may, I shall move on to the legislative aspects. For a charitable collection to take place, a licence must be applied for under the House to House Collections Act 1939 and the House to House Collections Regulations 1947. The Local Government Act 1972 transferred all licensing to the local authority, except in London. Larger charities can apply for a national exemption, but without a licence or an exemption doorstep collection is illegal. Although it is feared that as much as 50% of house-to-house charity collection is bogus, Charity Bags notes that only one in 10,000 illegal clothing collections in the UK is subject to enforcement action or prosecution by the local council.
There needs to be tougher enforcement action against bogus collectors, from the van driver up to the mastermind operator organising the entire ring. The current level of deterrence is laughable, and bogus collectors continue to act with impunity.
... Half of all donors who no longer give clothes cite scam collectors as their reason for not doing so.
... Bogus collection has grown from a small-time deception to a nationwide organised crime, costing charities millions of pounds in lost revenue. Unless the issue is taken seriously right from the top, the scam will continue. I urge the Minister to deliver more than a few warm words and instead to lead the attack so that the public can give with confidence and charities can receive the donations that they deserve.
... I thank the Minister for what he has outlined, but I dispute whether it is difficult to detect the people in question. Quite often they clearly state where they will be, and at what time. It is misleading or misguided to think that it is difficult to catch them and find evidence. It is often very easy to catch the perpetrators in the act. I feel that sometimes it is not a question of catching them; it is a question of the process afterwards-prosecuting them. That is where the slow-down is."
Mr Nick Hurd (Minister): "... I also think that the public will play an increasingly important role in detection and evidence. For example, in my constituency we have rolled out the concept of neighbourhood and street champions, people who have value as the eyes and ears of public agencies, on a range of issues. In the present context they could play an important role in detection and evidence-gathering."
From her website: www.traceycrouch.org/campaigns
"However the impact of these bogus [clothing] collections on genuine charities is immense. Not only does it mean people become more sceptical about donating clothes in collection bags, but it deprives them of much needed funds.
... This is shocking but not as much as [the] perceived lack of interest from enforcement agencies.
... "...and facilitate the strict enforcement of the House to House Collections Act 1939 and punishment of those found in breach of the Act". I will not rest until this issue is being taken seriously by the authorities and people can donate to charity collections safe in the knowledge that it is genuine.
... I also felt I needed to highlight the half-hearted approach of the majority of authorities in bringing the criminals to justice.
... However, whilst I welcome the Minister's interventions, if we are to combat bogus charity collections and restore trust in charity donations, we will need firm commitments from the Government and an acceptance that this is a serious and far-reaching crime, not just warm words of support."
"... the Association of Charity Shops [the ACS, now the 'Charity Retail Association'] noted the rise in collections by commercial organisations, by ‘bogus’ collectors purporting to be charities ... . The ACS state that ... these have contributed to a reduced level of donations to charity shops.
... A number of charity officers expressed the view that ... there was a feeling that where a commercial collection had operated recently in similar areas there was a decreased yield for the charity. Officers also noted that public confidence plays an important part in achieving the level of donations needed and know from experience that trust can be undermined by the actions of unauthorised collectors.
... The Charity Commission acknowledges the impact of bogus and misleading door-to-door clothing collection activity on the charitable sector.
... The main aim of the [Charity Commission's] campaign is ... and to stamp out fraudulent [clothing] collections that have nothing to do with genuine good causes."
For the full report, see :
= News article on the Fundraising Standards Board's website www.frsb.org.uk/english/news/65/22/Charity-Bodies-Warn-of-Bogus-Doorstep-Collectors/
"Alistair McLean, Chief Executive of the self-regulatory body for fundraising, the Fundraising Standards Board [FRSB], says: “We have seen a 100% increase in complaints about bogus goods collections over the past year as supporters query suspicious collections and express their confusion about which collections are legitimate. The problem has now become so widespread that charities are losing many millions each year and public confidence in this form of giving has taken a battering.
“It is crucial to protect this income stream for charities, reassuring the public that they can give confidently to the charities they care about and how, with some simple checks, they can make sure that their donations are going just where they want them to.”
... "Criminal activity around charity doorstep collections lies in two camps; theft of bags and bogus or fraudulent collections that falsely claim to be raising money for charitable causes. The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau [NFIB] affirms that bogus collections are carried out by organised criminals, with links to money laundering, human trafficking and serious violent offences. Both charity bag theft and bogus collections have increased substantially."
On the issue of theft and fraudulent charity collections of clothes and goods.
Organised by the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) and the Institute of Fundraising (IoF)
- various award-winning, hard-hitting articles on bogus clothing collectors
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