Charity may begin at home but it can end on the doorstep for some collections – destined to end up as petty cash for opportunistic criminals rather than valuable funds to help those for who it was intended.
Theft of legitimate charity bags by unauthorised collectors is rising to such a degree that a spokesman for Lancashire’s Trading Standards department, which covers Fylde and Wyre districts, today warned: “If you want to give to charity, take your donation straight to the shop. Don’t leave it on your doorstep.”
The plea is echoed by an national organisation crusading to curb rip-offs.
Charitybag.org.uk estimates that each year around £10m income is lost by genuine charities because of misleading and bogus house-to-house ‘charity’ clothing collections.
High street charities vie in an increasingly competitive and cut-throat market for the goodwill of locals.
Doorstep collections have become big business for thieves grabbing bags intended for, and often provided and labelled by specific charities, on the day authorised charity collectors were due to call.
Commercial operations also cash in. Some companies contend they support people by providing them with work to collect and process goods with a proportion of cash going to the Third World or other causes. While they don’t claim to be charities, it is a grey area, as many take the company registration number to be a charity number.
Others work in partnership with legitimate charities who cannot afford their own dedicated service but, as the British Heart Foundation points out, then charities receive as little as 4.5 per cent of the profits.
A spokesman for the foundation warns: “With a commercial clothing collection only 4.5 per cent goes to the charity. Of a British Heart Foundation collection, 100 per cent goes to the charity.
“There are three golden rules: stop before you give and check on pack information for the charity’s share, look at the small print, the registered charity number should be clearly identified, check out who collects, all our collectors carry identification and our vans are clearly marked with our logo.”
Other unscrupulous operators cruise communities looking for charity bags, and swipe them, or rip off charities with lookalike bags.
Our own inquiries established Troop Aid (Supporting Our Injured Troops) has fallen prey to just such a con, with distinctive Union Flag bags distributed in north Fylde carrying no charity number (1123888) or distributing company (D&P Textiles of Birmingham) identity.
Pam Sutton, of Solihull-based Troop Aid, adds: “This is a reputable charity. On average our legitimate collections get £4,500 a month which is a lot of money for a small charity.
“If you receive a bag, it must have our charity registration number on the reverse, and the name D&P Textiles Ltd. That guarantees it is genuine.”
Signs of the times can be seen at Cleveleys, where the availability of empty commercial properties, has seen charity shops opening.
Branches for Trinity Hospice and the Salvation Army joining smaller specialist newcomers, and big name charities, Barnardo’s, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, British Red Cross, YMCA, Oxfam, Sue Ryder Care and more, trading within yards of each other.
British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s and Cancer Research UK branches are displaying “stocks low” signs.
Yet our straw poll of shoppers reveals many would be duped into mistaking both the fake military appeal and “third world” commercial collection company bag for 100 per cent genuine, with all cash raised going to charity.
“I’ve put stuff out in bags like this and assumed it would all go to help other countries,” says Mrs Sylvia Timpson of Cleveleys. Karen Gale, manager of the town’s British Red Cross branch, says: “We can get 20 bags back out of 500 put out. Many come to the shop to give direct.”