The government has launched a campaign to help consumers to spot bogus charity clothes collectors.
The move follows a Which? report in August that revealed how charity doorstep clothes collections are increasingly being targeted by bogus collection firms.
The Association of Charity Shops estimates charities lose between £2.5 million and £3 million a year through theft and people giving clothing to organisations that they think are charities but may be commercial companies collecting for profit.
Certain firms distribute leaflets door-to-door with information about only a vague, unnamed cause they are collecting for, or sometimes give the name of a fictional charity.
The government has produced a leaflet with tips on how to check whether a clothing collection is actually benefiting a charity. It will be delivered in areas where problems have been reported, including the West Midlands, north-east London, Bristol and Gloucester.
The leaflet lists tips for spotting a genuine charity collection. These include:
- does the sack or leaflet say the collection is for a registered charity? If so, what’s the registered charity number – call 0845 3000 218 or visit the Charity Commission website to check that it’s genuine
- does it only give a registered company number? This just means that the organisation is registered with Companies House
- is the charity actually named? Be wary of wording that just says ‘families in need’ or ‘sick kids at Christmas’
- does the leaflet or bag give a phone number? The absence of a phone number may mean the collectors don’t want to answer questions.
Charities need a licence to collect so you can check a leaflet with either your council or the police service in England and Wales, or with the police in Northern Ireland. In Scotland contact the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
While the awareness campaign will help curb the problem of consumers putting out bags for a collector who isn’t working for a genuine cause, it won’t deal with a wider problem of criminal gangs pre-empting real charity collections.
50 tonnes of clothing a week
Amount stolen from Clothes Aid
In such cases, as highlighted by Which?, the thieves find out which day a genuine collector is visiting the area, and distribute their own leaflets giving the same collection day. This is simply a cover, to give them a reason to be in the area.
The gangs then turn up early in the day and steal the bags put out for the genuine charity collection.
Clothes Aid, the leading clothes collection agency, says it currently loses 50 tonnes of clothing a week to this crime. And it estimates that Great Ormond Street Hospital alone has lost around £220,000 this year.
As well as lobbying government ministers, MPs, police and trading standards departments, Clothes Aid has launched motorbike teams to follow the thieves, which has led to 85 arrests in the London area alone.
Michael Lomotey, of Clothes Aid, said: ‘If doorstep collections dry up because of bogus collectors they will have succeeded in stealing the UK public’s charitable spirit.’