Muir responds to concerns about door to door clothing collections

Over the last few weeks a number of people have contacted me with concerns in relation to the labels received through the letter-box requesting the donation of old clothing, bed linen, etc. The residents have been keen to support the causes detailed on the labels but since they are not commonly-known charities they are reluctant to donate their items incase it is a scam being perpetrated by commercial organisations to raise income for their own gain.

In response to the concerns raised I have conducted some research and it appears that door-to-door collections seeking items such as old clothes are undertaken by a variety of organisations. Collections have been taking place since the late 1990s with some collections undertaken by legitimate charities whilst others are undertaken by commercial companies on behalf of charities. The commercial organisation then takes a slice of the profits made from the sale of the goods donated.

Unfortunately, however, some commercial organisations also undertake the collections for their own gain without any money going to a legitimate charity. It is estimated that commercial organisations make up to £10 million a year using door-to-door collections for old clothing, etc.

Keen to clarify the situation I have made enquiries and it is apparent that the legal position with regards to the collections is complicated. It appears that the police do not issue permits for clothing collections, they only issue permits for monetary charity collections on the street. The police advise that if anyone has any suspicions they should not leave collection bags out for collection and report any suspicious behaviour directly to the police via 0845 600 8000.

Whilst the police advice is useful it is often hard to pick out the legitimate from the bogus collections. Members of the public are therefore rightly reluctant to report any suspect cases to the police, fearful they may be reporting a legitimate charity.

Action clearly needs to be taken to ensure bogus collections by commercial organisations purely for their own gain are promptly stopped.

Although not enacted yet, legislation has been passed in England enabling a licensing regime for charitable collections of old clothing, etc. Similar legislation would obviously be beneficial in Northern Ireland.   The planned introduction of a Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will hopefully provide an easy means for people to look up whether charities organising the collections are legitimate. Whilst legislation has been passed to enable the establishment of a Charity Commission and senior staff have been recruited, all charities will not be registered until 2011.

Until then I would encourage anyone who has concerns in relation to the legitimacy of a door-to-door collection for items such as old clothing to instead bring their items to a local Charity shop or use the textile recycling points provided by local Councils.

27 April 2010