MPs urge charities to control ‘chuggers’ in wake of public criticism
MPs have told firms involved in street fundraising that they have five years to address public concerns over the practice.
A regulatory crackdown on street fundraising – known as “chugging” – is inevitable if charities fail to address public concerns over the practice, MPs have warned.
Critics of chugging, in which salespeople cajole passersby to sign up for direct debit donations to good causes, say it is a form of public harassment and causes nuisance to shoppers.
Firms involved in street fundraising, which raises about £130m a year, are regulated by the voluntary sector itself. But the report by the House of Commons public administration select committee (Pasc) says this is not working.
“It is clear that self-regulation has failed so far to generate the level of public confidence which is essential to the success of the system and the reputation of the charitable sector,” it says.
The Pasc proposes the current system be “placed on notice”, and if there are no improvements within five years, statutory regulation should be introduced. “There should be no complacency from the charitable sector about the need to rebuild public confidence in charity fundraising.”
Fundraisers told MPs that chugging – a name derived from “charity mugging” – had attracted few complaints. Public annoyance at the practice stemmed from feelings of guilt because “some people just do not like to be asked to support charity”.
The report rejected calls by a rightwing thinktank to tighten up the rules to curtail political campaigning by charities such as Shelter and Child Poverty Action group. But it does recommend that all charities be required to declare in their annual accounts what money they spend on “political and communications work”.
“Clear information about how much a charity spends on political and campaigning activity would enable members of the public to make an informed choice about whether to donate based on an understanding of how an organisation would use their donation,” the report says.
However, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of charity umbrella body the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), said there was no public support for restricting charities’ right to campaign and called the proposal “an unnecessary piece of red tape”.
He said: “The proposal is entirely without foundation and would impose a regulatory burden that would mean more donations being spent on bureaucracy, and less on good causes. It is a regulatory madness and the government should reject it.”
The report partly exonerates the Charity Commission for its apparent failure to detect a fake charity, the Cup Trust, which was used as a front for a multimillion pound tax avoidance scheme.
The commission was criticised this week by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, who said she would launch an investigation into whether the commission was “fit for purpose”.
But the Pasc report concludes that the commission, which has lost a third of its budget in two years, did not have the capacity to investigate potential tax fraud, which is the role of HMRC.
It warned that if ministers wanted the commission to investigate tax avoidance, they should fund it adequately. “Ministers must decide whether they think it is necessary to have a proactive regulator of the charitable sector, and if so, the government must increase the commission’s budget and ask Parliament to clarify their powers.”