Bogus and illegal clothes collectors are being used as a smokescreen for the more serious problem of competition between charities and market saturation, according to the author of an Oxfam report on doorstep collections.
The report, unpublished but seen by Third Sector, lists 10 main problems with house-to-house collections in order of their impact. Bogus or illegal collections and bag thefts feature at number seven.
The top one is the growth in collections by charities working in partnership with commercial organisations. Most such charities do not have shops where they can sell collected items, and instead take a cut of the sale of clothes overseas or for rags.
"Some charities are essentially running textile-recycling operations rather than stockraising for retail," says the report by Julian Fifield, who has left Oxfam since writing it in May.
The second listed concern is competition between members of the Association of Charity Shops. The report says 60 million bags are sent out annually and households in "favourable postcodes" might get six bags a week. "That's called saturation in anyone's language," it says. "In fact, many householders call it a damn nuisance and are ceasing to respond.
"While bogus, illegal and bag theft incidences are a growing problem in many areas, the percentage to which this contributes to the market conditions is relatively small to date, although perception of its impact is higher."
In a parliamentary debate on bogus collections this month, Conservative MP Tracey Crouch described it as "nationwide organised crime, costing charities millions of pounds". Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, pledged to hold a round-table debate on the problem.
Fifield told Third Sector: "Bogus collections are a smokescreen. It's more about things like the volume of bags being distributed. I was shocked at how much was going on. There's a lot of duplication and waste, and that has a big environmental impact."
Fifield said it was up to the ACS to encourage charities to work together to improve the public perception of what they do. David Moir, head of policy at the ACS, said it was looking at the whole issue and ruling nothing out. "We're doing plenty and we engage with our members frequently."