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The law relating to charitable
house-to-house collections

Introduction

Geographical coverage - The law described on this page applies only to England (excluding London).

Union Jack flag

See the Variations across the UK page for information about the different arrangements in :

  • London
  • Britain (excluding England).

Our scope - The focus of CharityBags' efforts is on house-to-house collections, rather than street collections.  However, the two types of collection are closely related.  Therefore we've added two (brief) pages on street collections :

Summary of the law on charitable house-to-house collections

Is the collection 'non-charitable' or 'charitable' ?

  • Non-charitable collections are not regulated
    - typically these collections are carried out by businesses, for private profit.
    A well-known example is "Steptoe and Son" on BBC TV.
  • Charitable collections are regulated - in other words they need a licence or exemption.
    - The word 'charitable' here means that the collectors say (or imply) that the proceeds go to a charity or a similar good cause.  
    For more information on this, see the Definitions page.

In practice it can be difficult to decide whether some clothing collection leaflets/bags are 'charitable' or not.

For details, see the page:  A clothing collection:  Does it need a collection licence?

Law :
The House to House Collections Act 1939 and
The House to House Collections Regulations (1947 and 1963)

House to House Collections Act 1939 - Title page (Crown copyright HMSO)
House to House Collections Act 1939
Title page (Crown copyright HMSO)

The law regulating charitable collections is based on the House to House Collections Act 1939 and two related Regulations.

The Regulations give more detail on the procedures for controlling collections laid down in the Act.

For details, see :

The law covers collections of goods (property eg unwanted clothes, bedding, books, CDs, jewellery, furniture) as well as money.

Authorisation needed - licences and exemptions

To be legal, charitable house-to-house collections must be authorised.  This means the collectors must have either :

  1. a collection licence
    This is issued by the licensing department of the local council (a district/borough council or a unitary council).  For details, see : or . . .
  2. an exemption
    There are two types :
    1. A 'National Exemption Order' (NEO) granted to certain larger charities by the Cabinet Office (a central government department in Whitehall, London).
      This is for collections over a large area of England and Wales.
      For details, see the National Exemption Orders page.
    2. A local exemption, granted by the local police - for a local collection to be completed within a short period - eg by a scout group.

Monitoring, Enforcement and prosecution

If a charitable collection doesn't have a licence or exemption, it's illegal - and the collectors can be prosecuted by the local council and fined.  For details, see :

The regulators

Above, we've referred to :

  • local council licensing departments
  • the Cabinet Office.

However, some other regulatory organisations also have powers which can be used to deal with misleading collectors and collections (depending on the circumstances) :

  • the police
  • trading standards departments of local councils (TSDs)
  • the Charity Commission for England and Wales
  • the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
  • the Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
  • Company Investigations - part of the government's Insolvency Service

For details, see the Regulators page.

Definitions - concerning the law on charitable house-to-house collections

Rutex Ltd - clothes collection leaflet 814w
Illegal clothing collection
- leaflet from 'Rutex Ltd'

With many areas of law (including collections) the general principles are straightforward.  However, when you look at them more closely there are complications and technicalities (the 'small print').  For example :

  • exceptions to the general rules
  • the exact definitions of words and phrases.

On the Definitions page we deal with some of these complications in relation to charitable collections, for instance regarding the definitions of :

  • charitable purpose
  • charity versus charitable
  • house-to-house
  • door-to-door
  • unlicensed

Also see the Myths and misunderstandings page.

Related law and proposed reforms

Charities Act 1992

Part III of this Act set out a proposed new regime for the licensing of collections covering both house-to-house and street collections.  It was intended to supersede the 1916 and 1939 Acts (which cover street and house-to-house collections respectively), merging the two into one (simpler) unified, modernised system.  Some of the wording is very similar to the 1939 Act.

However, Part III of the 1992 Act has never been brought into force, because concerns were raised about whether it would work in practice.

Until recently, If you looked at the Act on the Net, there was no obvious indication that Part III had not been brought into force - which was rather misleading.  Indeed we know of one "authoritative" book on law which got it wrong - it had the collection provisions in Part III of the 1992 Act listed as now in force, and the 1939 Act listed as superseded.

The full text of the 1992 Act can be seen on the Government's Legislation.gov.uk   website.  For more details, see our Acts and Regulations page.

Charity law reforms in progress - The Charities Act 2006

See the page on Charity law reforms for details of :

  • Several useful reports produced by central government, especially the Home Office.  One of the reports deals exclusively with charitable collections - it nicely summarises the present law and suggests improvements.
  • The reforms currently being introduced (in stages) under the Charities Act 2006.
    The changes to the law on house-to-house (and street) collections were expected to come into force in 2010-2011.  However, they've been deferred until further notice.

Useful sources of information - law

See the List of organisations and resources page, except for the following :

Acts and Regulations

The Law page

The Acts and Regulations page

Charitable house-to-house collections :

The Law on street collections page