Stephen Bell of Changing Lives calls for street fundraising to be banned

The chief executive of the homelessness charity says it harms the sector as a whole, and only a few select volunteer collectors with local connections should be allowed to collect on the streets

Stephen Bell
Stephen Bell

Stephen Bell, chief executive of the homelessness charity Changing Lives, has called for street fundraising to be banned because of what he calls its detrimental impact on the reputation of the charity sector as a whole.

In an article published in the Newcastle newspaper The Chronicle yesterday, Bell, whose charity does not do any street fundraising except occasional street collections by volunteers, wrote that charities should no longer tolerate professional street fundraising by their counterparts and only a select few volunteer collectors with local connections should be given licences to collect money on the streets.

"The public image of charities is being undermined and we must stop the rot," he wrote. "Good, decent charities that play fair have had enough. I would like to see chuggers banned from the high streets, with limited licences granted to collectors based on local connections or special merit."

Bell said it was not surprising that the Fundraising Standards Board had received 52,389 complaints about charities last year, saying that people could barely walk down the high street or spend a night watching television without being "bombarded with requests to set up direct debits".

He criticised the charities engaged in street fundraising in Newcastle, where Changing Lives is based, saying that none of them were from the local area and few had any local connections.

He said such charities fundraised in this manner despite the irritation it caused because they found it effective – but this came at the expense of other charities.

"It is often difficult enough to engender empathy for our client group, without having the added challenge of having to overcome the reputational damage caused to the charity sector by the wayward antics of others," he said.

His comments came just as Newcastle City Council revealed it was looking into classifying street fundraising as a "nuisance issue" under new anti-social behaviour legislation. The council had a proposed bye-law to control street fundraisers’ behaviour rejected by the Cabinet Office two years ago.

Ed Foster, service manager for the environment and public protection at Newcastle City Council, said a planned bye-law drafted by the authority to restrict the areas and times at which street fundraisers could operate in the city was turned down by the Cabinet Office in mid-2013 because it believed that statutory regulation should be a last resort.

He said the council was now looking at other options for restricting street fundraising in the area, including classing chugging as a nuisance issue under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

He said the move – which could mean street fundraising was restricted to certain areas or times or even prohibited outright – would be subject to a consultation with local residents and businesses, which would probably take place before March 2016.

The council has in the past spoken to the Public Fundraising Association about setting up a site-management agreement, which would help control where and when fundraisers could operate in the city. But Foster said such an agreement had not been deemed suitable because the PFRA was a voluntary membership body and charities and agencies that did not wish to be covered by its rules did not have to become members.

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