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Charity bags: what you need to know

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 letter box. They usually have written instructions on them that explain what types of donated goods can be put in the bag. They usually ask for unwanted clothes, shoes, toys or homewares. 

Although you can also donate your unwanted goods directly to a charity shop or clothing bank, the following information 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 and resource-friendly 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 do charities and distributors have to follow?

Both charities and the companies they work with are required to follow the regulations 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 list can be found here

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 should 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; and
  • How the money raised will be divided between the charity and the company.

If the charity or collection company is registered with the Fundraising Regulator, you can expect to see the Fundraising Badge on the bag (see below). You can check whether they are registered with the Fundraising Regulator here.

FR Fundraising Badge

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

The company that distributes and collects the charity bag will have an agreement in place with the charity which outlines how money will be raised and divided. 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, and, 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 bag’ sign or have requested to go on a charity’s ‘no delivery’ list, you can do the following: 

  1. You should contact the charity directly with your concerns or submit 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 submit 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 in the first instance you raise your concerns with the charity. 
  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 and they may be able to answer any questions you have on licences. 

How do I recognise a genuine charity bag?

To help you recognise if a charity bag is genuine, we have produced separate guidance here. 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 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.