Moves to stop bogus collectors

The Cabinet Office is to arrange a meeting between the police, advertising regulators, trading officials and voluntary sector representatives to discuss how to control bogus charity collection companies.

Third Sector minister Ed Miliband revealed the Government's intention last week at a parliamentary debate initiated by Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson.

Swinson said collection companies that misled the public into believing they had humanitarian aims or were registered charities cost the sector between £2.5m and £3m a year. But regulatory bodies had had little success policing them.

She said groups got around advertising guidelines by including company numbers or footnotes saying they were commercial ventures in small print on their flyers, and even those that were found to be in breach of guidelines were not prosecuted.

"In the case of one company, Kraslava Services Seven, the Advertising Standards Authority found that it continued to distribute its leaflets, despite a complaint against it being upheld," said Swinson.

"There was nothing the ASA could do. To pursue legal action, the case passes to the Office of Fair Trading. However, the OFT does not have a good record of prosecuting bogus charities - mainly because the illegitimate actions of the companies make prosecutions very difficult."

Bogus collection gangs regularly changed premises and mobile phone numbers to avoid detection, she added.

Gangs that stole legitimate charity donations before they were collected were also escaping prosecution, Swinson said. She cited the case of a gang whose members were arrested in Romford, Essex, last month and later released without charge because of interpreting problems.

"The legacy of failing to tackle such thefts will not only be damaging to charities' work, it will mean a loss of trust, goodwill and charitable spirit among the public as a whole," Swinson said.

Miliband said a meeting between the Association of Chief Police Officers, the ASA, the Office of Fair Trading and sector representatives would be arranged in the coming months.

He said: "Action has been taken on misleading advertising in respect of this issue, but there is more to be done in ensuring proper cooperation between different authorities."

A spokesman for the Association of Charity Shops said the meeting was a step forward, but added: "I would have welcomed a greater sense of urgency on the minister's behalf."

A spokesman for Clothes Aid, which collects donations for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, said: "This requires a cross-border, cross-agency approach, but this needs to occur quickly as charities are losing revenue daily."

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