Jo has criticised the Scottish Government for its failure to tackle the problem of bogus clothing collections.
Commercial collecting companies across the country are posting flyers through people’s doors which mimic charity flyers, requesting donations of clothes, shoes and other items to be sent to the Third World. They imply charitable intentions, however it is not made clear that these are private companies who sell the donations to make a profit. Often they deliberately make collections on days when real charities are going door to door, in order to steal clothing donations which people have left on their doorsteps for the charities.
Private company Helpmates Ltd, whose activities were previously highlighted by Jo Swinson, continues to distribute leaflets in East Dunbartonshire asking for clothing donations. According to the Association of Charity Shops, the activity costs UK charities between £2.5 million and £3 million a year. While the UK government has printed 500,000 leaflets, distributed door to door by Clothes Aid in England and Wales to warn people about these companies, the Scottish government has failed to spread the word. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator printed just 15,000 leaflets in Spring 2007 and distributed them to public libraries.
A resident of Mugdock Road, who received a Helpmates leaflet, said:
“We received the leaflet through the letterbox about three weeks ago. I was suspicious about some of the wording, and I Googled ‘Helpmates’. My suspicions were confirmed, and I noted that Jo had been involved in a debate on the subject. My feeling was that in the current economic climate when charities are reporting a steep decline in donations, it seems unjust that a bogus “charity” are creaming off goods from worthwhile and genuine charities.”
Commenting, Jo said:
“Not only does this practice take advantage of people’s charitable natures, it also targets charities and those would otherwise benefit from their work, including some of society’s most vulnerable people. The UK government has printed 500,000 leaflets to be distributed door to door to raise awareness of bogus charity collections, so why has the Scottish Government only managed 15,000 leaflets that went to libraries two years ago? Constituents are still contacting me to say that they’re receiving requests from Helpmates, and more must be done to ensure that people know that this is not a charity, this is theft.”
It is estimated that 1 tonne of second-hand clothing can fetch more than £500 on the black market, and that each week, more than 50 tonnes of donated items are stolen. Between 20 and 30 vehicle loads of clothes stolen in this country arrive on foreign shores each month.
The text of Jo Swinson’s letter to the Scottish Government appears below:
Fergus Ewing MSP
Minister for Community Safety
Department for Justice
St Andrew’s House
24 March 2009
Bogus charity leaflets
Some time ago, I wrote to the Scottish Government asking about what action was being taken to warn people about bogus charity collectors. I understand that the Scottish Government did not put any resources into publishing this leaflet and so only about 15,000 leaflets were printed for libraries in Scotland, compared to 500,000 delivered to homes in England and Wales.
I have recent discovered that the same group of people, Helpmates, are once again operating in my constituency and have sent leaflets to several of my constituents in Milngavie, asking for clothing donations. I have myself contacted the local newspapers to try to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of this. I am disappointed that the Scottish Government are not keen to ensure that people are not tricked into believing that these are genuine charity donations.
I would be grateful if you could advise me of what the Scottish Government will be doing to tackle this, given the fact that recent evidence shows that the actions already taken have not deterred these people. I appreciate your assistance in this matter and look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Jo Swinson MP