Warning over bogus charity collections

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HOUSEHOLDERS have been advised to consider carefully which organisations they make doorstep charitable donations towards.

The call comes from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) following a rise in the number of attempted uplifts across the country. The Ellon area in particular has seen a high number of such collections in recent months.

Many legitimate charities perform doorstep collections. However, an increasing number of non-charities, often registered as companies, also solicit donations. The companies, which do not have to comply with charity regulations, may or may not go on to pass on the proceeds to a recognised charity.

One recent collection was organised in Ellon last Friday 8 April. The company concerned asked householders to leave out clothes, cosmetics, toys, jewellery and antiques, which would help to support the future of ‘disabled children, children with heart disease and cancer’.

However, no specific charity was named on the leaflet as a beneficiary of their collections, nor was an indication given as to what share, if any, of the proceeds would assist the causes cited. The company, established in May 2010, is not obliged to lodge accounts with Companies House until next month.

The Ellon Times called the number on the leaflet to ask the sole director, who gives the company address as a flat in Peterhead, which charities had benefited from their collections and in what way. However, despite repeated attempts at dialling, the number gave out an unobtainable tone.

An estimated £2.5 - £3 million is lost to charities each year because of theft and people giving clothing to commercial companies in the mistaken belief they are charities. In response, the charities regulator has produced a leaflet ‘Charity Doorstep Collections - Making an Informed Choice’, designed to help people make up their minds about whether their donations will be helping those most in need.

OSCR spokesperson Mark Simpson said that the guidance published by the regulator was intended to support the public.

“You can be asked to donate on the doorstep in a number of ways, from answering the door to someone with a collecting tin, to having plastic bags posted through your letterbox,’ he said.

“Whether or not to give is a matter of personal choice, but it’s important to understand that not all of these organisations are charities. While some collect for a charity, others may be businesses who sell the items you donate.

“We hope that our guidance provides useful information for householders to give confidently.”

The OSCR leaflet emphasises that an organisation doesn’t have to be a charity to carry out a public collection, but that a company number indicates a registered business rather than a charity. It also emphasises that an organisation can’t call itself a charity if it isn’t one, with regulators having powers to take action against this if they are presented with evidence.

Wilma Urquhart, Aberdeenshire Council Trading Standards Manager, said the problem was one they were aware of: “We have had a number of enquiries and complaints over the past couple of years from people who feel they have been misled by these collections”, she said.

“We would advise people to read the information provided carefully and if it says it is for charity to check this out with the Scottish Charity regulator or the Charity Commission. If it doesn’t mention a specific charity but uses vague terms the chances are it is not genuine.”

All charities registered in Scotland can be checked on the online Scottish Charity Register published by The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator at www.oscr.org.uk. Charities registered in England and Wales can be checked on the Charity Commission’s online register at www.charitycommission.gov.uk.

A Grampian Police spokesperson said: “If you are at all suspicious of any collectors, please contact the police on the 0845 600 5700 non emergency number, or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”