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Clothing collections :
Myths and misunderstandings

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Rutex Ltd - clothing collection leaflet 500w
Rutex Ltd - illegal clothing collection leaflet

We've encountered lots of myths and misunderstandings to do with clothing collections.  On this page we outline some of them and put the record straight.

Many people don't know the rules about clothing collections.  But at least they realise this - and they make efforts to find out the answers.  But a myth is more dangerous.  With a myth, the person thinks they know the answer and may act on this.  But their understanding of the position is incorrect.

For example, we've come across many (well-meaning) officials in government who have misunderstood the rules - and have been applying them inappropriately for years.

If you look at the websites of the regulators (both central and local government) - you'll find blatant errors on some of them - concerning collections.  For example, more than 20 council licensing websites state (incorrectly) that Exemption Orders are granted by the Charity Commission.  (They're actually granted by the Cabinet Office.)

To be fair, there has been very little published guidance available on collections, and not enough training of staff.

This was one of the reasons why we set up the CharityBags website - so it could provide more (and better) information on the subject.

General points

This page has some similarity with an FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

All the topics mentioned on this page are explained in more detail elsewhere on the site.

For more information :

House-to-house collections

For more information, see the pages on collections on the drop-down menus.

"House-to-house collections of clothes don't need a licence."

Incorrect.  The 1939 Act covers collections of "money or other property ...".
"Other property" means any goods (eg clothes).

"All house-to-house collections need a licence."

No :

"A house-to-house collection doesn't need a licence if they mention they're a commercial company."

Yes and No :

"Charitable house-to-house collections need a permit."

"Charitable house-to-house collections need a licence."

"House-to-house collections only need a licence if they mention a charity."

Incorrect.  They need a licence if they purport to be collecting in aid of any charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose - irrespective of whether it's a charity (see the quote from the 1939 Act above).  It more or less means any "good cause".

"A 'Licence' or a 'license'? - surely you spell the word with an 's' in it?"

s/c ?

OK - there is an "s" in "licensing", "licensed", "licensee" etc.
But a "licence" (noun) is spelt with a "c" in British English.
(Note: The Americans use an "s" in it.)

You get the same issue of the letter "c" versus "s" with advice versus advisor/advising etc.

"The police are responsible for licensing house-to-house collections."

Metropolitan Police logo (our thanks to the Met)

Yes - in London.

No - outside of London.  The police were responsible between 1939 and 1974.
But in 1974 this responsibility was transferred to the licensing departments of local councils.

"The police are responsible for licensing house-to-house (and street) collections in London."

Yes - but with one minor exception ...

"Collection Exemption Orders are called Home Office Exemption Orders (HOEOs)."


"National Exemption Orders (NEOs) are dealt with by the Office of the Third Sector (the OTS) - which is part of the Cabinet Office."

Office of the Third Sector - logo

This was true between 2006 and May 2010.  But (in May 2010) the new coalition government abolished the Office of the Third Sector.  However, NEOs are still dealt with by the Cabinet Office (in Whitehall).

"The rules for licensing house-to-house collections were changed around 2006 (by the Charities Act 2006)."


Yes and No :

"The vast majority of house-to-house collections are genuine."

This phrase is used on some council websites - to give reassurance.

It's incorrect.  See the Statistics page for an estimate of the true figure.

"You can check what licences have been issued by looking on the Internet."

No.  So far, only a few councils have put information about collection licences on the Internet.  See the page called: Councils' diaries of collection licences

"Each council's list of licence applications is confidential."

No.  It's public information.  If you have problems accessing it, quote the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.

"Clothes which are collected house-to-house go to charity shops."

No.  With most collections, the clothes are sold commercially.  They're exported - especially to Eastern Europe and Africa.  A small royalty payment (eg £50 per tonne) is paid to the charity (see below).

See the Statistics page for an estimate of the percentage of collections where the goods go to charity shops.

"The company say they'll donate to the good cause £50 for every tonne of clothing they collect.  That sounds generous."

No.  A tonne of clothes is a lot of clothes.  A tonne is 1,000 kilogram (kg).  So, £50 per tonne means that 1 kilogram (=2.2lb) only raises around 5 pence.  This is a fraction of what would be raised (for the good cause) if you take the clothes to a charity shop.  For more on this, see :

A typical item of clothing weighs around 0.5 to 1 kilogram (eg trousers or a dress).
(By the way, 1 tonne is the weight of an average car.)

"The collection company says they'll donate (say) £100,000 a year to the charity - surely that's great?"

Not necessarily.  The key questions are:


Clothing collectors

"Clothes Aid is a charity."

No.  Clothes Aid is a for-profit, commercial company, with local franchises.
It works in partnership with registered charities, passing on to them a proportion of its profits.

See the page on Clothes Aid

Cothing collection van
Inside a clothing collection van

"The collection van must be from the charity - it has their name on it."

Alas, no.  Most clothing collection vans are owned, staffed and operated by commercial companies.  They have partnership agreements (contracts) with the charity concerned.  The charity allows the company to put the charity's details on the sides of their vans.  In return, the company gives some of its profits to the charity.


Regulators and enforcement

"Surely most misleading / bogus / unlicensed collections are stopped and the collectors are prosecuted."

No.  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%.

"The regulator says the collection is misleading but it's not against the law - so it can't be stopped."

Sometimes this is correct.  But often it's not correct :

"The Charity Commission can take action against misleading or bogus collectors."

No.  The Commission say their powers only relate to charities.
So if a collector isn't a charity, the Commission say they can't do anything about it. *

"The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is a government agency."


No.  It's a 'self-regulating trade body' - a not-for-profit, private sector organisation funded by a levy (of 0.1%) on advertisers.  It's a limited company.  It's not part of government.  So the end of the ASA's web address isn't '.gov.uk' (it's '.org.uk').

This status makes it unique amongst the regulators we describe who are involved with controlling collections (see the Regulators page).  All the others are part of government.

"The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can take action against misleading collectors."

Yes and No :

The ASA publishes adjudications (=its verdicts) on adverts which have been the subject of complaints - eg clothing collection leaflets.

However, the ASA has no involvement with law courts - and it has no powers to sue, prosecute, fine or imprison the "offenders".  For more on this, see the page on the ASA.

"The police can't prosecute thieves who take filled bags of clothes before the official collectors arrive."

Untrue.  Recent guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says that it's theft and the culprits can be prosecuted by the police - even if the bag was on the pavement, verge or road (rather than on private property).  See the Theft of bags page.



For more information, see the page on charities

"It's called the 'Charities Commission'."

No.  It's called the "Charity Commission" (singular).

Map of the UK (our thanks to Wikipedia)

"The Charity Commission deals with all of Britain (or all the UK)."

No.  It only deals with England and Wales.
It doesn't cover Scotland or Northern Ireland.

"All charities are registered charities."

No.  Charities with an income of £5,000 or less (and some others) don't have to register.  (However, they still need to abide by charity law - and almost all are regulated by the Charity Commission.)

"A charity can't be a company."

Incorrect :

"The name of their website ends with '.org.uk' - so it must be a not-for-profit organisation like a charity."

Incorrect.  Unfortunately (at present) Nominet allows anyone to buy an ".org.uk" web address.
See our page: Use (and misuse) of '.org.uk' web addresses


Charity shops

For more information, see the page on charity shops

"The staff in charity shops are paid employees."

Charity shop (courtesy of Oxfam)
Charity shop

No (with some exceptions) :

Until the 1980s, ALL the staff were volunteers (unpaid).
Nowadays this is still the case with over 90% of the staff.
However, some shops have a paid manager.  This person has professional experience of retail.  This increases sales and profits - and more than pays for his/her salary.

"Charity shops can't take donations of electrical goods."

13 Amp mains plug

Yes and No :

See the Charity shops page for more on this.

"If you take your donated items direct to a charity shop, it costs you time and money."

Not necessarily.  It costs you more-or-less nothing if you get in the habit of saving up the items until you next go into town (shopping, visiting your bank, hairdresser, library etc).

"If a charity shop can't sell an item of donated clothing, it costs them to get rid of it."

No (in most cases).

Most charity shops sell unsaleable items to 'rag merchants'.  They get several hundred pounds per tonne.  See the Statistics page for the typical figure.