Two things in particular struck me when I was doing research for this week’s feature on charity clothing collection theft and fraud.
Firstly, the good news. There does seem to be a genuine attempt by many organisations and bodies to try to tackle the problem in a meaningful way. From the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to the Trading Standards Institute, and the Fundraising Standards Board to the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers, a lot of work has been done and is continuing.
In my short time reporting on the sector, it is one of the most coordinated and wide-ranging responses to a problem I have seen.
But the second thing is not so good. It is the extent of the problem. By extent I mean both the seriousness of it, particularly the shocking violence that has been found happening within the gangs stealing the clothes, and the millions of pounds lost to the sector because of fraud and theft of
bags. And I mean the wide-ranging different types of problems beginning to slowly emerge.
We have the issues of: gangs posting fraudulent charity bags through doors; gangs picking up full bags on doorsteps opportunistically; companies taking advantage of small charities by promising to raise them a certain amount of money but never delivering that said figure; charities allegedly taking bags that belong to other charities; licensing issues; charities with shops rallying against charities that use commercial companies to collect their clothes; saturation of the market; and the rising rag prices.
It seems like there are so many problematic areas to this issue, a lot of them still wholly or at least in part shielded from public knowledge, that it is going to be very hard to coordinate a successful response without a lot more clarity.
I think the sector has a duty to be a lot more open about the various issues, even if it is to blame for some of them.
It’s understandable that there may be fears of public perception issues arising if there is more openness about these problems, but there seems to be a real crisis here anyway. Only with more clarity will suitable initiatives be devised that are strong and high-level enough to really tackle this evidently huge issue.