I am sure that many people were as shocked as me after the recent report by BBC South East exposed bogus charity clothing collectors operating in Chatham and other parts of Kent and Medway. On this occasion they were doing so under the guise of Breakthrough Breast Cancer but other charities have been victims in the past. The recent flyer for Breakthrough Breast Cancer looks perfectly normal - it uses corporate branding, there is no dodgy spelling, it has a registered charity number and outlines the contribution from each bag to charity. The only problem is, the leaflet is fake, and the only way someone would know that is if they rang the number on the flyer. If I am totally honest, I would have been duped by the flyer.
However the impact of these bogus collections on genuine charities is immense. Not only does it mean people become more sceptical about donating clothes in collection bags, but it deprives them of much needed funds. I have tabled some written parliamentary questions on this matter including how much it does cost charities each year, but the estimate banded around on the Internet is that it is somewhere in the region of £5 - 14m per year. This is shocking but not as much as perceived lack of interest from enforcement agencies. Because it appears to be such a small crime, it is not a police priority. However given its cost, the organised nature of the crime and the fact that many clothes are being exported for cash, I would say it is very serious indeed.
It was for that reason that I tabled the following motion in Parliament:
"That this House condemns the activities of fraudulent charity clothing bag collectors who abuse the goodwill of those who donate clothes for good causes; recognises that this organised crime is becoming a nationwide issue; expresses concern that these activities undermine the valuable work of genuine charities, depriving them of millions of pounds worth of donations per annum; and calls on the Government to ensure that local police authorities tackle the criminal gangs responsible and facilitate the strict enforcement of the House to House Collections Act 1939 and punishment of those found in breach of the Act".
I hope to secure a debate in the next few weeks to raise this issue with a Minister direct but I will not rest until this issue is being taken seriously by the authorities and people can donate to charity collections safe in the knowledge that it is genuine.