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Definitions of some relevant words

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Wording used in the leaflets and bags - To stop unlicensed collections which pretend to be charitable (such as bogus ones), the wording used on their leaflets or bags is crucial - hence we've added this web page to help you.

At first sight, some of the issues on this page may appear a bit fussy or pedantic - but they're essential if you're trying to stop misleading or bogus collections.  Often, the lawyers representing the collectors will cynically exploit any technicality in an attempt to promote their client's case.

The crucial issue - 'charitable purpose':  In particular, just ask yourself is the collection described in the leaflet 'purporting to be for a charitable purpose'?  In other words is it giving the impression that their purpose is benevolent / philanthropic / a good cause (rather than commercial / business aims) ?

If the answer is 'yes' :

However, if they make it clear they're commercial they're perfectly legal and they don't need a licence (see Law).

Small print - Commercial collectors sometimes argue that they don't need a licence because they mention (or imply) they are a business in the small print somewhere.  We understand this view is incorrect - the crucial point in law is what is the overall impression given by the leaflet? - irrespective of the small print and technicalities.  See trading standards law and the Advertising Standards Authority's rules for the principles behind this.

Cautious choice of words when criticising collections - Be careful with your choice of words when querying or criticising a collection - terms such as bogus, con, fraud, scam and the like are strong, pejorative words with specific meanings (see some definitions of them below).

We've tried to use more cautious terms such as 'potentially misleading', 'questionable', 'dubious' and 'poor value' in some circumstances.  Bear in mind the law relating to defamation (libel and slander).

Abbreviations - See the Abbreviations page for a key to them.

House to House Collections Act 1939 (courtesy of HMSO. Crown Copyright)


Official definitions - See Section 11(1) of the House to House Collections Act 1939 ('the 1939 Act') for the official ('statutory') meanings of the following seven words :

Key to the definitions below:


Third sector

This term has become popular recently. It's based on the following categorisation of organisations :

  1. the public sector - ie government (central and local), eg Whitehall, town hall
  2. the private sector - ie pursuing private profit, ie commerce/business
  3. the 'third' sector - non-government, not-for-profit organisations - eg charities.

The website of the Government's Cabinet Office described the third sector as :

'voluntary and community groups, social enterprises, charities, co-operatives and mutuals'.

Charity - loose definition

'An organisation that helps people who are poor, sick, in difficulties, etc' (Longman)

Charity - legal definition

Charity - Our rough-and-ready definition of a charity is as follows :

Registered charity and non-registered charity

Charitable purpose

The 1939 Act only deals with collections which are for a 'charitable' purpose. The Act defines this as follows (in Section 11(1) - Interpretation) :

' "Charitable purpose" means any charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose, whether or not the purpose is charitable within the meaning of any rule of law.'

So, if a collection is not for a charitable purpose, it doesn't need a licence - for example a commercial collection conducted solely for private profit.

'Charity' versus 'charitable'

The words 'charity' and 'charitable' are closely related but have crucially different meanings. See above for definitions of both words.  'Charitable' has a wider meaning than 'charity', as follows :

The key issue with the word 'charitable' is where the proceeds go to (the purpose) - rather than who is carrying out the collection.

We've been concerned to discover that certain regulators don't know this (particularly some trading standards officers and the police).  They have sometimes told us that they cannot take action 'because the leaflet doesn't say the collectors are a charity'.  This narrow interpretation is incorrect.

To stop a collection, you don't have to prove that the collectors are claiming to be a 'charity' (or registered charity) on the leaflet - you only have to show that the collections are for a 'charitable' purpose.


'Act of giving: that which is given, a gift of money or goods' (Chambers)


'To give as a gift: to contribute, especially to charity' (Chambers)

'To make a gift of something, especially for a good purpose' (Longman)

Dictionary definitions of the word 'donate' generally say that it has charitable connotations (eg give to 'a good cause'). Therefore, if a collector uses the word 'donate' in his leaflet, he's indicating that the collection is 'charitable'.  This means it needs a licence.  After all, you may 'give' your unwanted clothes to a commercial recycling business (say Steptoe and Son) but you wouldn't say you had 'donated' them.

In our opinion, the use of the word 'donate' in a collection leaflet provides regulators with a highly effective way of stopping cleverly-worded misleading collections.  If the collector argues that he doesn't need a licence, we feel that a court would disagree.


charity collection boxes
Charity collection boxes

Street collections

This term covers only those collections where the collector is stationary - for example a person standing in a shopping centre holding a collecting tin.  The Charities Act 2006 uses the term 'collections in a public place' for street collections.  See the page on Street collections for more information.  Don't confuse street collections with house-to-house collections.


'Performed or conducted by calling at house after house' (Chambers)

The phrase 'house-to-house' in the 1939 Act implies that it only covers visits to houses.  However, in practice the law also covers visits by collectors to other premises such as pubs, shops and offices.  So a more accurate phrase would be 'door-to-door'.  Indeed in the latest legislation they use the term door-to-door (the Charities Act 2006).

Note - hyphens:  Throughout the website we've used hyphens in the phrase 'house-to-house', except when referring to the 'House to House Collections Act 1939'.  We omit hyphens in the name of the Act because the official title of the Act doesn't use hyphens.


This implies visits to any type of premises - so not just houses, but also flats, pubs, shops, offices etc.

'Door-to-door' is the term used in the Charities Act 2006 (albeit without the hyphens).


'To assemble or bring together ... to call for and remove ... gather contributions especially of money' (Chambers)

'To gather objects ... to come to take away' (Longman)

Image below: Flyer (leaflet)
Flyer (leaflet for a clothing collection)


A leaflet used in marketing, advertising, sales etc - for example the leaflets put through people's letterboxes asking them to donate clothes etc, using the plastic bag accompanying the leaflet.

Clothing collections

Strictly speaking, this phrase implies that the collections are limited to clothing (ie garments worn on your body). However, in practice most collectors also ask for other household items such as :

So when people refer to 'clothing collections' they usually mean 'clothing etc collections' (in other words 'collections of clothing and other goods').

Typically, a collection leaflet lists what items they want (and don't want).
Normally, collectors don't want :

Royalty collections

Eg "£50 per tonne of clothes " given to a charity by a commercial collector.
See the Donations page.

'Charitable collections' - two different meanings

This gets a bit subtle.  The phrase 'charitable collection' can be used in two similar (but crucially different) ways :

  1. meaning merely that a collection gives the impression of being charitable (regardless of whether it is genuine or not), or
  2. meaning that it is also genuinely charitable - in other words the collectors are honest (not bogus) and the proceeds really do go to the good cause specified.

In both cases above, the collection (the leaflet, bag etc) gives the impression of being charitable.  Therefore in both cases it needs to be authorised (with a licence or exemption) under the 1939 Act - to be legal.

The 1939 Act simply makes it an offence to carry out any collection which appears to be charitable if it has not received authorisation (in other words a licence or exemption).  So technically this part of the Act is not concerned with the crucial issue of whether the collection is genuine or bogus (in other words whether its proceeds go to the good cause indicated or not).

Instead, this issue (of genuine or not) is dealt with by the licensing authority when the collector applies for approval - the licensing authority then vets the collector, checking that the collector is genuine and that various requirements are complied with.

So, when dealing with the question "Is it a charitable collection?" you need to bear in mind whether you're referring to definition "a." or "b." above. For example, with a bogus charitable collection like Gotham :

We suggest using the first of these two meanings ("a." above).
This allows you to split charitable collections into two types :

This is consistent with the definitions used in the 1939 Act.

Sometimes a genuine charitable collection is illegal - this happens if the collectors haven't got authorisation.  This situation occurred with a registered charity called the Evergreen Trust in London in 2002.


Note:  See the Scams, cons etc page for more on these issues.


'Counterfeit, spurious' (Chambers)

'Adj derogatory pretended; intentionally false' (Longman)


'Adj abbreviation for confidence, as in con-game - a swindle,
con-man - a swindler, especially one with a persuasive way of talking;
verb to swindle, to trick, to persuade by dishonest means' (Chambers)

'1. to trick a (trusting person), usually in order to make money;
2. to persuade, especially by deceit' (Longman)


'... misleading, trick, illusion' (Chambers)

'1. the act of deceiving
2. something that deceives; a trick' (Longman)


'1. (an act of) deceitful behaviour for the purpose of making money, which may be punishable by law
2. derogatory someone or something that is not what they claim or are claimed to be' (Longman)


'A clever and dishonest plan or course of action' (Longman)


'Act of thieving: a thing stolen' (Chambers)

'(An example of) the crime of taking someone else's property from a place; stealing' (Longman)

Law and regulation

Scales of justice


For explanations of legal terms such as Bill, Act, Regulation, Order, Statutory Instrument - see the page on Acts and Regulations.

Regulation, regulators

See the page on Regulators (eg local councils, the police, OFT, ASA).

Licences, permits, certificates

On the face of it, 'licensing' implies issuing a 'licence'.  However, some licensing regimes use a different term - such as a 'permit', 'certificate' or 'consent'.  The principle is still the same.

See the licensing regimes page for more on this.

Don't forget that (when we refer to 'licensing') generally we're only talking about licences for charitable collections.  There are also other aspects of law which may affect collectors (some of which involve other licensing regimes), such as :


This means that a collector doesn't need a licence - for example because he's been granted a "National Exemption Order" (NEO) - eg the Salvation Army.

For details, see the Law on house-to-house collections page.


1.  When referring to bogus house-to-house collections, we (and many others) use the phrase "unlicensed collections". The phrase is commonly used as a convenient (but inaccurate) shorthand for the more cumbersome (but accurate) phrase: "collections without a licence or exemption".

Usually this works fine, but occasionally it leads to ambiguity and confusion - regarding whether you mean exemption as well.  What's needed here is a phrase which means "collections without a licence or exemption" but is shorter. We feel the best term would be "unauthorised collections".

Note - This problem of terminology arises because the House to House Collections Act 1939 offers two alternative ways of getting authorisation for a collection :

  1. A licence from the local council, or
  2. A (national) exemption from the appropriate central government department (currently the Cabinet Office).

2.  By the way, don't forget that (under the 1939 Act) an "unlicensed clothing collection" isn't necessarily illegal :



We use this term to indicate any activity carried out primarily for private profit.  Relevant terms include :

Typically, the organisation concerned will be a limited company (Ltd), a PLC, an LLP, or a sole trader/self-employed person.

Thus we refer to :

Some commercial organisations will make donations to good causes (including sponsorship), but this is not the main purpose of their business.

The alternatives to 'commercial' are :

Some charities carry out trading activities, such as charity shops, mail order goods, and producing/selling cards.  On the face of it, these activities are commercial.  However, the profits generated go to the good cause, so their ultimate aim is charitable (not commercial).

Recycling symbol

'Re-use' versus 'recycling'

For the differences between these two words, see the Re-use and recycling page.
In terms of environmental benefits, re-use is much, much better than recycling.