The British Heart Foundation has called on clothing collection companies that work on behalf of charities to be clear about how much charities receive from doorstep collections.
New research by the BHF, released today, says that only 30 per cent of charity clothing collection bags received by the public are from charities that will then sell the clothes in their shops.
The other 70 per cent of the charity bags, it says, are from commercial companies that sell collected items overseas and give a proportion of the profits to charity. The BHF asked 100 homes local to its shops in the UK to collect all the charity bags they received in May and June this year.
In separate research carried out for the charity by the independent online research company OnePoll, it found that in a sample of 2,000 nationally representative adults, 65 per cent were unaware that these commercial arrangements existed.
OnePoll found that 85 per cent of people who became aware of this activity through taking part in the survey said it made them feel shocked, cheated and disheartened.
The BHF wants commercial companies to say how much charities will receive as a percentage of the sale price of the goods rather than an amount in pounds.
The charity said bags might say, for example, that charities will receive £50 per tonne of clothes when they can be sold abroad at up to £1,800 per tonne.
Mike Lucas, the retail director for BHF, said: "It is vital that commercial companies act responsibly and be transparent on their charity bags – particularly about how much profit the named charity will actually make from a collection.
"Householders have the right to know what happens to their donations, but currently this information is not clear. Although this is a legal way to raise money, companies working for commercial gain are a huge problem for charities with high-street shops."
Wendy Mitchell, head of policy and public affairs at the Charity Retail Association, said there should be more transparency about charity bags. She said confusion about how much goes to charity might deter people from donating clothes at all.
Michael Lomotey, business manager at the clothing collection agency Clothes Aid, said it put figures on its bags explaining how much went to charity per tonne of clothing.
For example, he said, bags for NSPCC collections say that £85 per tonne goes to the charity.
"There are costs involved for carrying out these collections," he said. "Most charities don’t have charity shops and this is the only way they can get involved in clothing collections."
He said about 15 per cent of the organisation's revenue was profit - 94 per cent of which went to its charity partners.
"The revenue that goes to charitable purposes is about the same whether using in-house collections or an agency," he said. "We've all got the same costs."