Charity shops must do more to protect stock from theft, Charity Retail Association chief Martin Blackwell says

Blackwell, who has led the CRA since January, says shops should train their staff better and invest in technology to help combat the theft of donated goods

Martin Blackwell
Martin Blackwell

Charity shops must do more to protect their stock from theft, according to the new chief executive of the Charity Retail Association.

Martin Blackwell, who has led the umbrella body since January, told Third Sector that charity shops needed to train their staff better and look at investing in technology to help combat the theft of donated goods.

Blackwell, who previously spent 20 years working for the retail chain WHSmith, said one of the things that had surprised him since he started his job was how big an issue security was for charity shops. "Anecdotally, stock loss is not good at all in charity shops," he said. "People seem to think they can steal from a charity shop, and I think it’s partly because things are donated."

He said that charity retailers should not ignore the problem.

His comments come after it was reported earlier this month that Age UK was using covert cameras in some of its charity shops to catch volunteers suspected of stealing money or goods. The charity found cases of dishonesty at most of the 13 stores it reviewed.

Blackwell said that a predicted rise in shop vacancy rates in high streets across the country could lead to the opening of more charity shops. He said vacancy rates were currently about 12 to 13 per cent, but he predicted there could be an increase because 40 per cent of all high-street leases would be up for renewal this year.

"We’re going to see a vacancy rate rise this year and the charity sector might fill some of those gaps," he said. "This year is a huge year for the retail sector."

Blackwell said there was concern in government about the number of fraudulent Gift Aid claims for donated goods made by charities. "The message is don’t do it. If the Treasury thinks that the sector is fiddling the system and Gift Aid gets a reputation for being unsound, everybody could lose out."

According to the CRA, charities gain permission from donors to claim Gift Aid on the sale of the goods they donate 30 per cent of the time on average. But Blackwell said the incidence of fraudulent claims was tiny.

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