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Opinion: Bogus clothes collecting denying legitimate charities access to much needed funds

Double check if in doubt when approached for clothing donations to ensure those in need benefit.

Dermot McGilloway SVP National Retail Development Manager

BOGUS COLLECTORS USING ‘door-to-door’ collections and clothing banks are commonplace across the country.

As well as being illegal, it is unethical, as there is no transparency in terms of where donations or the proceeds from them actually end up. Last year, the Irish Charities Regulator received 431 reports of bogus collections and issued new guidance on the issue.

It is difficult to quantify the cost to legitimate charities but in the past some have seen a drop of 25% in donations at specific periods. In the UK in 2011 the British Heart Foundation estimated that its losses from theft of charity shop donations and bogus collections almost tripled from £1.2m in 2010 to £3m.

Another UK organisation, Clothes Aid, said ‘bogus operators’ could be costing its 12 charity partners more than £1.1m a year in lost income.

  • Read more here on how you can support a Noteworthy investigation into bogus ‘charity’ clothes collectors are doing with your cast-offs. 

Not only do bogus collectors deflect income from legitimate charities and consequently those who depend on their support, but there can also be damage to the sector’s reputation.

There are essentially three areas of concern around bogus collections. The first is outright fraud where fake charities adopt the names of real charities.

There is also misleading literature that gives the impression that there is a charitable beneficiary, when that is not in fact the case. Finally, there is the actual theft of bags of clothing left out for legitimate charities to collect.

If in doubt, check it out

Potential donors are reminded to look out for the charity name, logo and registered charity number and contact details.

The Irish Charities Regulator liaises with An Garda Síochána in respect of these matters on an ongoing basis and advises anyone who suspects a charity is not legitimate to contact the gardaí.

You can also search for the name of a charity on the regulator’s website here.

Legitimate charities that rely on donations, such as the Society of St Vincent De Paul (SVP), enjoy great support from across the country through charity shops and clothing banks. In fact, SVP sort over 14,000 tonnes of donated goods annually. 

SVP also collects donations from churches, shopping centres, corporate donors and house clearances.

Very occasionally it will do door-to-door collections, but home owners will receive several days prior notice and all literature will clearly show charity’s name, logo and registered charity number.

One tip is that details of any local collections will be well sign posted in advance on the SVP website or social media, and this is often the case for other legitimate charities also.

St Vincent de Paul shop SVP sort over 14,000 tonnes of donated goods annually Source: SVP

Benefits of double checking 

By making sure you are donating to legitimate charities, it ensures the income from your donations are directed back into the local community to provide assistance to those in need.

In our case, the income from SVP shops is used to help support those who are struggling and seek its help. At the moment that is about 500 people a day. 

Our shops are a hugely important aspect of the service provided by the Society of St Vincent de Paul for those who seek its assistance. Many people who use SVP shops depend on them for providing basic needs.

The shops are also managed by a small number of full-time staff supported by volunteers and Community Employment (CE) workers.

In addition, your donations are vital for those on limited budgets who are unable to afford mainstream retail prices or shop online as it allows items to be available at an affordable price in local retail such as in SVP’s network of 230 charity shops.

Clothes can now also be purchased from SVP’s eBay store or from Thriftify, with other legitimate charities also increasingly using these platforms.

So, donations made to the shops are used to fight the twin problems of poverty and deprivation, on one hand and the excessive consumption of fashion on the other.

Encouraging sustainability

Anyone concerned with sustainability should also be wary of the bogus clothes collectors as there is no way of knowing where they sell the donations or indeed how much is dumped in landfill.

At Vincent’s Retail, we are very conscious of our own carbon footprint and want to get to the point where everything we do is carbon neutral.

Sustainability is becoming more and more important for the savvy shopper of today who wants more than just soundbites or promises from the retail sector.

We spare no effort in trying to reuse the pre-loved items that have been donated to us.

SVP are committed to minimising waste and donated garments as they go through a ‘double filter’ system where they are checked at local shop level and again at the local Order Fulfilment Centre to ensure that all possible value is extracted. This process keeps pre-loved garments out of landfill. 

Any item that has still not been sold will be sent on to one of our national recycling partners who, in turn, will reuse, recycle, or export surplus garments. We do not put any textiles into landfill and are committed to extending the life and use of every ‘fit for purpose’ donation.

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Finally, the best piece of advice we can offer to householders approached for clothing donations and who may be worried about the legitimacy of the collectors is: If in doubt, check it out!

Dermot McGilloway is National Retail Development Manager at the Society of St Vincent de Paul. 

SHIRT OFF YOUR BACK Investigation 

Pile of discarded clothes with window and door in the background

Do you want to know what bogus ‘charity’ clothes collectors are doing with your cast-offs?

The Noteworthy team want investigate the impact that scams are having on genuine charities, who is running fake charity collections and whether sufficient action is being taken to tackle fraudsters.

Here’s how to help support this proposal>

About the author:

Dermot McGilloway  / SVP National Retail Development Manager

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