Charity bags: advice for the public

Charity bags are a common way for charities to fundraise. The money raised from charity bags is an important source of income for many charities, which helps them carry out their vital work. For many members of the public charity bags are an easy way to support causes, but for others they may be an unwelcome intrusion. 

Charity bags will usually be posted through your letterbox. They often have written instructions on them that explain what types of donated goods can be put in the bag (such as unwanted clothes, shoes, toys or homewares). 

You may receive bags for unwanted items that are not being collected for charitable purposes. However, if you are being asked to donate your items for charity, this must be clearly stated on the bag.

Although you can also donate your unwanted items directly to a charity shop or clothing bank, this advice sets out what you need to know if you receive a charity bag and want to donate in this way. We also set out what you can do to make it clear you do not wish to receive charity bags. 

What are charity bags?

Charities use charity bags to fundraise for their cause. Donated items are usually sold to raise money for the charity or given directly to the people they support. 

Although charities will sometimes independently distribute and collect charity bags themselves, this work is more often carried out by a company on behalf of the charity. This can be a more cost-effective way of distributing the bags than the charity doing it themselves. The charity and distribution company will have an agreement in place which outlines where and how often the bags are delivered.

What rules must charities and companies follow?

Both charities and the companies they work with are required to follow the standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code). The code sets out the behaviours and standards expected of all fundraisers. If charities and the companies they work with do not follow the code, they may be investigated by the Fundraising Regulator. 

They must also follow laws in the House to House Collections Act 1939, which requires them to have a licence or permit from the local authority when collecting donations from people’s homes. However, there are 47 national charities that are exempt and do not need to register with each local authority. The National Exemption Order webpage includes an up-to-date list of exempt charities. 

If you’re not sure whether a bag collector has a licence to collect in your area, contact the licensing team at your local authority.

Although charities will have an agreement in place with their distribution company which sets out how the bags will be delivered and the proportion of funds they will receive from the donations, they are not required to share this publicly. However, we advise charities to be transparent about the agreement.

What information must be on the charity bag?

To help you make an informed decision on whether to donate, charity bags must have the following information on them:

  • The name and registration number of the charity that the items are being collected for on the front and back of the bag;
  • What cause is being fundraised for;
  • The distribution company’s name, registration number and place of registration on the front and back of the bag. This information must be printed the same size or bigger on the bag as the name of the charity they are collecting for; and
  • How much or what proportion of the money raised the charity will receive.

Charities and charity bag collection companies can register with the Fundraising Regulator to show they support good fundraising practice.

If the charity or collection company is registered with the Fundraising Regulator, you can expect to see the Fundraising Badge on the bag – this is the logo that says ‘Registered with Fundraising Regulator’ (see below). You can check whether they are registered with the Fundraising Regulator by searching our Directory.

FR Fundraising Badge

Will all funds raised from the charity bag go to the charity?

The company that distributes and collects the charity bag must have an agreement in place with the charity which outlines how money will be raised and how much of the money raised the charity will receive. This might be a percentage of the funds raised from the items collected or a flat fee.

You can ask the charity or the company that distributes the charity bag for more information about this agreement if you would like to know more.

What if I do not want to donate in this way?

If you do not want charity bags delivered to your address, you should display a ‘no charity bags’ sign on your front door. You might also decide to contact a charity that has delivered a charity bag to you and ask them to record your address on their ‘no delivery’ list. 

Charities and the companies they work with must respect your wishes. If they do not, they may be in breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice. 

If you continue to receive charity bags after you have displayed a ‘no charity bags’ sign or have requested to go on a charity’s ‘no delivery’ list, you can: 

  1. Contact the charity directly with your concerns or make a complaint to them. This is often the quickest and most effective way to resolve an issue and it gives the charity the opportunity to respond to you directly. 
  2. If you do not think that the charity has addressed your concerns, you can make a complaint to the Fundraising Regulator. In most cases we will recommend that you speak to the charity first to allow them the opportunity to resolve your complaint. So, it is important that you raise your concerns with the charity before contacting us. 
  3. You can also raise a complaint with your local authority. Charities, and the companies they work with, are required to carry out all charity bag deliveries in line with the terms of the licence agreement they have with the local authority. They may also be able to answer any questions you have on licences. 

How do I recognise a genuine charity bag?

If you are concerned that a charity bag you have received is fraudulent, or the company delivering the charity bag is operating illegally, we recommend you first contact the charity that the bag is claiming to fundraise for. 

You can expect the following from charity bag collections:

  • The charity bag should say when the collection is scheduled to take place (either the day or the date). If you see someone take the bag before this date, let the charity know.
  • Collectors should display their logo on the vehicle that they’re using to pick up donations. Contact the charity if you see anyone collecting bags in an unmarked van.
  • Collectors should also be able to show you photo ID with their name and organisation contact details, if you ask them.

You can check the registers of charities in England and Wales or Northern Ireland to confirm if the organisation named on the bag is a registered charity. You can also contact Action Fraud to report your concerns.