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Charitable collections:
Councils' registers of licences

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  1. Registers - in general
     
  2. Registers - local council registers of applications for charitable collection licences
  3. Registers - problems with the present system - and suggested solutions
  4. APPENDIX:
    Registers relating to other licensing and enforcement regimes

Related pages:  You're looking at one of the following closely-related pages :

Please see the other pages listed above to get the full picture.

Scope:  On these pages, we're only dealing with :

1. Registers in general

As you can see from the Appendix at the bottom of the page, there are 'registers' in many different fields.

Registers are to be found in all three sectors - government, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector.

A register is a list which gives a summary of key information about the entries (people, organisations, places, objects, events etc).

One dictionary describes it thus :

Register :

An official written record of names or events or transactions.
A book in which names and transactions are listed.
A record of assets.

Some registers are still paper-based.  But most are computerised nowadays.  Whether computerised or not, typically they're 'structured' - with records (=rows, =entries) and fields (=columns - eg name, date, location).  Basically they're databases.

On this page we focus on local council registers of applications for charitable collection licences (especially house-to-house).

2. Registers - local council registers of applications for charitable collection licences

Introduction

A 'register' of applications just means a list, table or database summarising each application.

The House to House Collections Act 1939 and Regulations don't specify that councils must keep a register (list) of these licence applications - in other words it's optional (in theory).  However, if a council didn't keep a register, it would be difficult (or impossible) for them to operate their licensing system effectively - and it's likely that it would be seen as maladministration.

So, in practice, almost all councils do keep a register. 
These days, it's normally held on computer - in the form of a simple searchable database.

Data standardisation

The software used by councils for their registers no doubt includes:  Microsoft Word, Access, Filemaker Pro, Excel and proprietary systems (eg LalPac).

The data recorded about each licence varies from council to council.  Some registers are basic, others are more sophisticated.

As far as we know, (alas) no attempts have been made to standardise the data structure or coding (EDI etc).  Standardisation would make the sharing of the data vastly easier and cheaper - if sharing were to be attempted.

Contrast this with (for example) local councils' library cataloguing data - with its host of agreed standards such as AACR2  , MARC, PRECIS and ISBN/ISSN.

Example of an entry in a collection register

Each licence entry in a typical council register contains information such as the following :

Application reference number 2012/0164
Date application received 28 October 2012
Applicant's name Grundy Exports (Clothing) Ltd
Applicant's address Unit 6, Felpersham Business Park, Borsetshire BE4 8JS
Charitable cause benefiting Borset Children's Cancer Charity (RCN 3849456)
Type of collection proposed Goods - Clothing, footwear, towels etc
Starting date 1 January 2013
Finishing date 31 March 2013
Area of collection Ambridge
Officer dealing Shula Hebden-Lloyd
Decision on licence Approved
Date of decision (committee) 21 November 2012
Date of decision notice 24 November 2012
Returns submitted 26 April 2013

Public access to the collection registers - problems

Whenever we ask a council licensing department whether a particular collector/charity has a licence, they've always been happy to look up their register and tell us the answer.  So you'd think they'd treat the registers as public.  However, when we've asked to look at the register ourselves (or have a copy of it), some councils have been reluctant or have said 'no'.  Our understanding is that this approach is largely incorrect.

FoI

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the FoI Act), ALL government information is public - unless there's a good reason for withholding it.  The FoI Act lists these circumstances (exemptions) - eg national security and commercial confidentiality.  We've contacted Freedom of Information officers in a number of local councils.  They've agreed that none of the exemptions apply - so (in essence) the registers are public.

Part of the problem is that most councils assume the public won't ever ask to see their register.  So the councils don't design and maintain the register with public access in mind.  They tend to treat the register as informal, for internal use only.  We've found this leads to several problems :

  1. Often, the quality of the register is less-than-perfect: (i) its design and (ii) the entered data (eg spelling mistakes, punctuation, inconsistencies, omitted data).
  2. Occasionally, information on private individuals is added (which can't be made public because of the Data Protection Act).
  3. Occasionally, other confidential information is added - eg critical comments about "iffy" collectors.

So, when we've asked a council for a copy of their register, some of them feel the need to edit it first - especially regarding bullets 'b' and 'c' above.  In effect, they "censor" it - removing the "contamination" of confidential (or embarrassing) information.

We suggest councils should anticipate that the public may ask to see the register - and they should maintain it with this in mind.  Councils already do this with registers relating to (1) the Licensing Act 2003 and (2) planning applications.

3. Collection registers - problems with the present system - and suggested solutions

Map of the UK (England and Wales are in dark red)

Problems

On this page we've focused on local council registers of applications for collection licences.

We've found they're a much-neglected/under-used source of information on collections.

The main problem is that the registers are not readily accessible.  If they were made more accessible :

Registers in several other licensing regimes are far more accessible - see the Appendix below.

A key (related) problem here is that collection licensing is done by numerous local organisations (300 or so councils in England and Wales) - rather than one national organisation.  Compare this with (say) the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).  The ASA is a single national body with a single 'register' (their public database of adjudications on complaints).

There's a precedent with the Police National Computer (PNC, details below).  There are 43 territorial (local) police forces in England and Wales.  In 1974 they all agreed to set up a single, shared database - the PNC.  Council licensing departments should copy this model.

Suggested solutions

1. Improve the quality of the collection registers

See the section above on public access to the registers.

2. Improve accessibility of the registers

We feel that councils need to make their registers more accessible.  This would help everyone, including :

3. Put the councils' registers on websites

So far, we know of only a few councils that have put their collection register on the Internet. 
Please contact us if you find one.

Warwick District Council - register

At October 2009, Warwick District Council's   website includes lists of house-to-house collections for 2008 and 2009 (as Acrobat PDFs).  However, they're rudimentary - with just date, name of collector and whether exempt or not.  It doesn't say whether the collections are for cash or clothes.  And when the collector is a company, it doesn't say which charity they're collecting on behalf of!  But it's better than nothing.

Bury Council (Greater Manchester, NW England) - register

At March 2011, Bury Council has a rudimentary public register of licensed house-to-house collections - see http://lpe.bury.gov.uk/protected/wca/main.jsp  :

Bury Council - House to house collection licence register (extract)

St Edmundsbury Borough Council (Suffolk) - register

At Oct 2012, St Edmundsbury Council has a virtually identical house-to-house register to Bury's (also using software from LalPac Ltd).  For details, see our "Council's online diaries" page.

 
Put councils' diaries of charitable collection licences on their websites

,,Putting their diaries of collection licences on their websites is the single, most effective thing that councils can do to reduce the problem of misleading/bogus collections - so that charities raise more money.  It's extremely cost-effective.

For more details on this, see the following page :

We've seen a few enterprising council websites that have a list of "live" licences - in other words :

You could also describe it as a list of "active licences" or as a "diary of licences".  These lists typically cover the next 12 months or so.  Some of these lists include details of pending applications for licences (ie where the council hasn't yet decided whether to approve the application).  Examples :

We urge councils to put their collection registers on their websites.  After all, many councils have already put licensing information on their websites in respect of alcohol and entertainment (under the Licensing Act 2003).

In essence, none of the core information in the collection registers is 'personal information' as defined in the Data Protection Acts.  Also we understand it's not subject to copyright.

4. Work towards standardising the registers

See the section on this above.

5. Set up a central (national) register of applications for collection licences

Map of the UK w200

As well as improving the accessibility to the registers held by each council, there's also an urgent need for a national register.  Then you'd only need to do one search.  This would substantially increase the effectiveness of licensing and (especially) enforcement relating to house-to-house collections.

A number of other licensing/enforcement regimes already have national registers (details in the Appendix below).

Some of them are particularly relevant to clothing collections - because they consist of data compiled by local councils (which is then copied electronically to a national register).  An example is the 'national [town] planning application register' - see Appendix below (the Planning Portal).

£

Cost effectiveness of a national register:  Our calculations show that the increased revenue raised by charities because of having a national register would be approximately 25 times the cost of running the register.  In other words, for every £1 spent on the register, £25 extra would be raised by genuine charities.

6. Copies of registers we've obtained

We've asked several local councils to send us copies of their 'registers' of collection licences.  With most of them, our intention is to add them to the website - to help everyone.

We're very grateful to the councils concerned.

Exeter City Council (Devon) - register

We've dedicated a whole web page to this register.  See the page called :
Exeter City Council: Register of charitable house-to-house licences 1997-2010

Ashford Borough Council (Kent) - register

Ashford Borough Council: Register of charitable house-to-house collection licences 2000-2011
This is an Excel spreadsheet.  It opens in a new browser window  

This register was kindly supplied to us by the Council's Licensing section in Nov 2011.  It covers all licences for house-to-house collections under the 1939 Act from September 2000 to late 2011 (a total of 11 years).  The information is an extract, taken off their software system - which (presumably) comprises all types of licences.

It's a spreadsheet of 87 entries (rows).  So the average was eight licences per year.  There are 7 columns, headed :

Reference [number] Applicant [person] Organisation [incl address] Good Cause/ Charity Application [date] Collection Period from/to [dates, 2 columns]

An example of their reference numbers is "LN/200400623".
This means: Licence Number, year 2004, sequential number 623.

Clothes collections:  Unfortunately, there's no indication of the type of collection (cash or clothes).  The Council informed us:

"We do not have the information you require with regards to clothes or money as we did not record this information.  However we have now changed our procedures and records, so we will have that information in the future.  Anecdotally almost all the collections have been for clothes.
None of those applied for were for direct debits as until the legislation in the Charities Act 2006 is brought into force, they do not require any permission.  We do keep a diary for those that have notified us they want to collect in the area.   . . .
We have had no withdrawals, refusals, revocations or appeals.  If we have concerns regarding a collector, we ask them for more details."

Fortunately, with many of the entries it's obvious they're for clothes - for example :

Around 25% of the 87 entries are clothes collections.

Cash collections include:

A few of the charities listed have National Exemption Orders (NEOs) - eg ADRA, RAFA.  There's no indication in the register that these have NEOs.

As well as national organisations, there are numerous entries for local good causes - eg Ashford Sea Cadets, St Michael & All Angels Church, Tenterden Lions Club.  We assume most of these are cash collections.

With a few of the entries, the good cause is missing.  The Council kindly checked these and provided the following information :

It's worth re-sorting the spreadsheet to get a different 'view' of it - try sorting by the Good Cause column, and also by Organisation.

Note:  In essence, the spreadsheet is the copy supplied to us.  However, we've made a few minor changes (in consultation with the Council) as follows:

We asked the Council about enforcement.  They replied :

"We have not taken action against an unlicensed collector in the last 6 years, as we have not been informed of any or discovered them ourselves.  I don’t doubt that they might be out there, but we don’t have any evidence of any."

Portsmouth City Council (PCC, Hampshire) - register

Portsmouth City Council: Register of charitable house-to-house collection licences
This is an Excel spreadsheet.  It opens in a new browser window  

This extract from the register was kindly supplied to us by the Council in Dec 2011.  It covers licences for all house-to-house collections under the 1939 Act from 1998 to 2011 (a total of 14 years).  The information is an extract (house-to-house licences only), taken off their software system - which (we understand) comprises all types of licences.  The columns closely match the details we requested.  Presumably their system has other information too - eg addresses.

There are 371 data entries (=rows, =records).  There are 10 columns (A-J).  Below is an example of an entry for a clothes collection (with their column headings) :

  1. Licence Number - 10/03866/HOUSE
  2. Applicant Name - Intersecond Ltd
  3. Collection For - Mercy Ships
  4. Application Received - 2010-07-09
  5. Period From - 2010-07-26
  6. Period To - 2010-10-25  [ie 3 months]
  7. Area - Whole city
  8. Decision Date - 2010-07-20
  9. Decision - "Licence Expired" (most entries say this)
  10. Type - "Not recorded" (all entries say this)

Unfortunately, there's no indication in the register of the type of collection (cash or clothes).
Our very rough estimate is that around 15-20% of the entries are for clothes.
The clothes collectors/charities we recognise include :

However, there are dozens of collections where there's no way of telling if they're cash or clothes.

Column B (Applicant Name):  Almost all the entries in this column are the names of the person submitting the application.

Column C (Collection For) - in other words, the charity/good cause :

Column D (Application Received) = date:  The only entries are from Sept 2009 to now (late 2011).

Column I (Decision):  Most entries say "Licence Expired".
There are three other values here: Licence Issued, Decision, Application Withdrawn.

We asked the Council if they have ever revoked any licences.  Answer: NO.
We asked if any applicant has appealed to the Secretary of State.  Answer: NO.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (Kent) - register

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council: Register of house-to-house collection licences 2004-2011

The file above is a Microsoft Word document.  It opens in a new browser window  

This extract from the register was kindly supplied to us by the Council in Dec 2011.  It covers licences for all house-to-house collections under the 1939 Act from 2004 to 2011 (a total of 8 years).  The information is an extract (house-to-house licences only), taken off their software system - which (we understand) comprises all types of licences.  Presumably their system also has other information on each licence - eg addresses.

The document is a Word table of 8 pages, with 7 columns.  The columns are headed:

/ Ref No / Trading As / Date of Application / Collection Period To-From / Area of Collection /Date of Decision / Decision /

There are 89 licences (=entries, =rows).  This is an average of 11 per year.  The newest items are at the top.

Beware - with around 10 of the older licences, the date of decision is earlier than the date of application.

There is no indication of the type of collection (money vs clothes).

The most useful column is the second one - headed "Trading As".

Alas, with around 15% of the entries, only the name of the commercial collector is given (not the charity), as follows :

Under the 1939 Act, the crucial issue is the good cause (eg charity) - not the collector (=agent).  The best way of dealing with this is to record both the charity AND the collector (eg as separate columns).

You can easily copy the table's data into Excel - by Select All, then copy-and-paste.

Unfortunately, the data in the "Trading As" column is in the form of "Mr Jo Bloggs for charityname".  So you can't sort it by charity unless you first split the data into (a) person's name and (b) charity name.

The Council is now part of a Licensing Partnership :

"On 1 January 2010 Sevenoaks District Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Maidstone Borough Council formed the Licensing Partnership to process and issue licensing applications.  The Licensing Partnership has a central administration based at Sevenoaks, with Licensing Officers located at each local licensing authority, together with admin support to deal with people visiting the Gateways."

Sevenoaks District Council (SDC, Kent) - register

Sevenoaks District Council: Register of house-to-house collection licences 2009-2011

The file above is a Microsoft Excel .xls spreadsheet.  It opens in a new browser window  

There are 9 columns (A-I), headed:

  1. REFVAL
  2. CODETEXT
  3. DECISN
  4. DECIDD
  5. EVENTD
  6. ENDD
  7. LOCATION
  8. CPTRADEAS
  9. APPLICANT.

There are 75 rows (=licences) - plus the heading row.

All the applications were granted a licence except one - Intersecond Ltd (for Mercy Ships) in 2011.

One licence was revoked. #

 


Registers of local council licensing departments: software

See:  lalpac.idoxgroup.com  

Note:  LalPac Ltd is a company which supplies licensing software to local councils (eg in relation to the Licensing Act 2003).`


4. APPENDIX
Registers relating to other licensing and enforcement regimes

When we've looked at how registers are handled in other licensing regimes, we've spotted useful, innovative ideas which could be applied to clothing collections.  So we've included information below on several regimes.  We've split them into two categories - (a) public and (b) confidential.

a) Public registers

House-to-house collections - List (register) of National Exemption Orders (NEOs)

London, Houses of Parliament - Westminster (courtesy of www.bigfoto.com)

See the page on the House to House Collections Act 1939 for the background.  There are currently around 43 charities with National Exemption Orders.

In both cases, the department concerned has kept an official list of the charities with Exemption Orders.  Basically, the list is a register.

The list is small but crucial.  It's essential to know who's on this list if you want to find out whether a collection is illegal - because it's only illegal if :

FoI and the Exemption list (register):  In 2003, we contacted the Home Office to obtain a copy of this list of Exemption Orders.  We were told (courteously) that we couldn't have a copy - it was 'confidential'.  We found this extraordinary.  We queried this with the department's Freedom of Information section - and we immediately received a copy of the list and were told that it was a public document.  Sadly, the Home Office declined to put a copy of the list on their website - so we put a copy on the CharityBags website (with their agreement).

As soon as the Cabinet Office took over responsibility for the list (in 2006), they put a copy on their website.  The list is kept up-to-date.  See our page on National Exemption Orders for details (including a web link taking you to the official copy of the list).

Registers under the Licensing Act 2003 ("LA2003")

This recent Act deals with alcohol and entertainment licensing.  Normally, this licensing is dealt with by the same local council licensing departments that handle house-to-house collections - so this makes it a good comparison.

At a national/policy level, the 2003 Act is the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)  

There are helpful 'Explanatory Notes' accompanying the Act - see: www.legislation.gov.uk  

Extracts from these Notes - relating to registers :

"16. The Act provides for the setting of fees in relation to applications, notifications, licences and certificates. The fees will be set centrally and are intended to be set on the basis of full cost recovery.

The Act requires each licensing authority to establish a register relating to the grant of licences and certificates and the giving of temporary event notices and associated matters.

The Act includes a power for the Secretary of State to provide for the establishment of a central database to maintain matters a licensing authority is obliged to register.

. . .

Section 8 - Requirement to keep a register

45. Subsection (1) provides that each licensing authority must maintain a register which records details of the authorisations it issues, the temporary event notices it receives, other notices and applications to it as set out in Schedule 3, and any other information which the Secretary of State prescribes.

Under subsection (2) the Secretary of State is given the power to make regulations as to how that register must be maintained.

Subsections (3) to (5) provide that the information contained in the register must be made available for inspection by the public during office hours, free of charge, and that a copy of that information must be supplied on request (for a fee).

Subsections (6) and (7) make provision for the Secretary of State to arrange, through administrative action, for the establishment of one or more central registers, in which case the licensing authorities may be required to pay for the cost of such arrangements."

[Crown Copyright HMSO]

[bold (and some carriage returns) added by CharityBags for clarity]

You'll notice above that the Act requires councils to (a) keep a register and (b) make it accessible to the public.  Also it refers to the establishment of one or more central registers - which would combine local information into a national database.

A number of council websites include a copy of their register - so you can see who's received a licence.

The central register of charities maintained by the Charity Commission

This national register contains details of around 180,000 charities in England and Wales.  It's available 24/7 on the Charity Commission's website   Anyone can use the database - it's free, searchable, printable and sophisticated.  It includes financial details, and personal details of trustees.

Registers under town planning legislation

Under the Town and Country Planning Acts (TCPAs), each local planning authority (LPA) keeps a statutory register of all planning applications.  The public are entitled to inspect these registers and are allowed to make notes of the contents.  Nowadays many councils have put a copy of their planning registers on their websites.  Many council websites also include scanned copies of the documentation submitted by each applicant (forms, drawings etc).  For example see the government's Planning Portal website: www.planningportal.gov.uk  .

The Planning Portal site includes an online 'national planning application register' (searchable), giving details of all applications made in the last 12 months.
It includes a drop-down selection list of councils, A-Z.

The Planning Portal logo www.planningportal.gov.uk (Crown Copyright)
Above: The Planning Portal logo www.planningportal.gov.uk (Crown Copyright)

Adjudications by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

ASA

Details of the ASA's adjudications (decisions) concerning complaints are provided on their website, fully searchable.  See our pages on this :

The Land Register

This is maintained by the Land Registry.  This organisation is a non-ministerial department of central government.  It's now an executive agency.

Website:  www.LandRegistry.gov.uk    Extract from the their website :

"The main statutory function of Land Registry is to keep a register of title to freehold and leasehold land throughout England and Wales.  On behalf of the Crown, it guarantees title to registered estates and interests in land.  State-backed registration gives greater security of title, providing protection against claims of adverse possession."

Other registers (examples)

b) Confidential registers

The Police National Computer (PNC)

This went live in 1974 and now has 100 million records.
It's a national database, available 24/7 to all police forces and related agencies.
See the page on the PNC in Wikipedia   for more information.

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB)

Established in March 2002, the CRB is an executive agency of the Home Office (central government).  It's run by civil servants.

"The CRB . . . was set-up to help organisations make safer recruitment decisions.  . . .

The CRB acts as a 'one-stop-shop' for organisations, checking police records and, in relevant cases, information held by the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)."

Website:  www.crb.gov.uk  
 


 
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