Gangs who target charity doorstep clothes collections may no longer be able to exploit a legal grey area to escape prosecution.
Earlier this year, Which? revealed how bogus collectors were stealing millions of pounds from charities each year by taking bags of donated clothing from doorsteps.
The problem was exacerbated by legal confusion over who owned the bag, as the householder had given away the contents and the charity had yet to pick it up.
Charity owns bag
But new guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London says items left for collection by a charity become the charity’s property as soon as they are put into its bag.
However, the bag must be appropriately marked and clearly belong to the charity.
A leading clothes collection agency, Clothes Aid, says this new guidance means that unauthorised collection or possession of such bags should now be regarded as theft by the police.
Great Ormond Street Hospital
Clothes Aid 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.
Michael Lomotey, Head of Campaigns for Clothes Aid, said: ‘This was a grey area in law and it’s been difficult to get a successful prosecution. The charities we work with, however, all use clearly branded bags so now there can be no mistaking who they are meant for.
He added: ‘Although the guidance has only been issued in Greater London so far, it is a fantastic start and we hope the rest of the country will follow suit.’
The guidance note, which has been issued to all CPS offices in London, states that if the bag is appropriately marked and clearly branded as belonging to a particular charity ‘any unauthorised removal of the bag from the donor householder’s collection point will be regarded as theft and reported to the police’.