Birmingham by-law to prevent street fundraising will harm services, charities warn

Mark Astarita, chair of the Institute of Fundraising, tells the city council it should enter into a voluntary site agreement with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association

Mark Astarita
Mark Astarita

Donations will be damaged and services cut if Birmingham City Council’s proposed by-law to prevent charities from street fundraising goes ahead, a group of major fundraising charities led by the Institute of Fundraising has warned.

The local authority is pressing ahead with plans to introduce a by-law that could lead to fines for face-to-face fundraisers in the city if they cause "obstruction or annoyance". 

Mark Astarita, chair of the Institute of Fundraising and director of fundraising at the British Red Cross, has written to Sir Albert Bore, the council’s leader, and Stephen Hughes, its chief executive, to raise concerns about the proposal.

The letter, co-signed by fundraising directors from seven other charities, calls on the council to enter into a voluntary site agreement with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association as a way to regulate street fundraising in the most "cost-effective and efficient way" while protecting charities’ voluntary income.

All the charities that signed the letter – the BRC, Cancer Research UK, the poverty charities Care International UK and Concern Universal, Friends of the Earth, Marie Curie Cancer Care, the National Deaf Children’s Society and Shelter – carry out street fundraising in Birmingham city centre.

"In these difficult economic times, were we to lose this level of support, it is almost certain that the reduction in voluntary income would mean we would have to cut services to our beneficiaries," the letter says.

"The council’s proposed by-law, should it be implemented, will undoubtedly have a seriously detrimental effect on the services we are able to provide."

At a meeting in July, the Labour-run council’s licensing committee voted to press ahead with plans to introduce the by-law that would apply to face-to-face fundraisers in Birmingham. They rejected a proposal to draw up a site-management agreement with the PFRA.

The proposed by-law would make it an offence for fundraisers to "repeatedly" approach members of the public over a "short space of time". A £500 fine would be given if any fundraiser caused an "obstruction or annoyance".

The letter says that the law would effectively ban face-to-face fundraising by preventing charities from "proactively asking people for support – the very thing that makes this type of solicitation so effective".

A report with recommendations on the by-law is due to go before the licensing and public protection committee on 16 October, a council spokeswoman said.

The PFRA has 69 agreements with local councils, including major cities such as Manchester and Glasgow, that set out where fundraisers can operate and when.

The face-to-face regulator has made numerous attempts to work with Birmingham City Council, most recently in December last year.

A briefing on the PFRA’s website raises doubts about whether the by-law would be enforceable and says it would be unlikely to conform to government guidance or policy. "If this by-law does prove to be unenforceable, they will have wasted several tens of thousands of local taxpayers’ money when a free solution delivered by the PFRA already exists," it says.

A spokeswoman for the council said: "The current situation is that face-to-face fundraisers are governed by the PFRA code of practice but are often not abiding by it.

"Proposals are being considered by Birmingham City Council that would not prevent charities from undertaking face-to-face fundraising, but would allow the council to regulate and enforce face-to-face fundraising.

"These proposals have significant support from the public and from local businesses through the Retail Bid and City Centre Partnership. They will be considered by the licensing and public protection committee on 16 October."

Jenna Pudelek

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