Street fundraisers in Wolverhampton face fines of up to £500 if they contravene by-laws aimed at controlling touting in city streets, the local authority has warned.
Andy Jervis, head of environmental health, trading standards and licensing at Wolverhampton City Council, told Third Sector that the by-laws, which were introduced last year, say that no person in the street or a public place should solicit custom for a service or seek to gather information in way that could cause obstruction or annoyance.
He said legal advice obtained by the council said these by-laws could apply to street fundraisers and that fundraisers who annoyed the public could be seen to be breaking them.
If a fundraiser was found to contravene the by-laws, they could personally be fined up to £500, said Jervis. He said council officers would give the fundraiser a warning and write to the organisation they worked for before any fine was imposed.
Roger Lawrence, leader of Wolverhampton City Council, said it was acting on evidence that, if unchecked, "nuisance chuggers" could deter people from visiting the city centre.
"I’m determined this will not be the case, especially in the run-up to Christmas," he said. "In the meantime, I’ve asked officers to prioritise other ways to control them – for example, by restricting their numbers and the times and places they operate."
A spokesman for the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association told Third Sector it was advising its members to ignore the council’s threats.
He said the PFRA had been in touch with the council last year and had drawn up a draft site-management agreement, which covered issues such as the areas street fundraisers could operate in and which days they could fundraise on.
But the council had since changed its mind about the agreement and had been in touch to say it would instead invoke a by-law and fines system.
"We have written back to say we’re disappointed and told them that these by-laws don’t apply to fundraisers because they are not trading," he said. "We also said that we think any prosecutions they try to bring against fundraisers would fail."