in Wandsworth

Chugging chuggers

Imagine I stopped you on the street, perhaps applying a bit of gentle pressure, persuaded you to give me your bank details, then used them to take over £500 from your account without really telling you what it was going towards; you would have good reason to think you have been mugged.

Yet last night’s Newsnight revealed that this is, in effect, what is happening with chugging. The British Heart Foundation are paying on average £136 per sign-up, but claim that they get £3-4 back.

The industry ‘watchdog’ the PFRA – who, of course, get some of that £136 – were wheeled out to defend the practice along with the British Heart Foundation (to whom I’d occasionally donated in the past, but will channel that money elsewhere in the future) but not, to my mind convincingly.

To me it’s hard to see how it’s anything but an incredibly bad way to give money. Half the people who sign up never even cover the costs of the sign-up to the charity they are, supposedly, supporting. Even if the £3-4 return on the sign-up fee is true it still represents and administration cost of 20-25%.

In effect we have a practice that doesn’t really benefit the charity as much as if should, and most certainly doesn’t benefit the high streets where they hassle people.

In Wandsworth we still have an uneasy truce in which the PFRA have, graciously, agreed not to chug in the Tooting Broadway area, but insist they are entitled to go chugging when and where they want. And while the council still has no power to licence or regulate the practice pedestrians in the rest of our town centres still have to risk walking the gauntlet of chuggers when they go shopping.

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  1. I completely agree with you James and I saw that Newsnight article myself and wasn’t at all surprised. The defense of it from PFRA and the BHF was comical with the BHF avoiding the questions and coming out with positive spin and Mick Aldridge saying ‘its only one way to look at it’ when challenged with the question of the first 18 months gets swallowed up in middleman costs.

    Lets face it, the PFRA are a trade association with ‘regulator’ clothes on and will only look after their members, namely everyone involved in chugging.

    My question is:

    Why are councils across the country, including Wandsworth, doing a deal (SMA) with an unelected body (PFRA) which is basically a trade association whose main purpose is to influence public policy? Is this not undemocratic?

    • Wandsworth does not have a site management agreement (SMA) in place. We have an uneasy moratorium with them in one venue (Tooting Broadway) but no SMAs anywhere else – part of the reason is that we believe we have the right to say that no part of Wandsworth is suitable for chugging, the PFRA believe that they have a right to chug and, therefore, our positions are incompatible.

      I cannot speak with any authority for other councils. For some I think there was a misunderstanding that led them to an SMA. My opinion is that the PFRA were pushing SMAs as inevitable and implying that councils would have a duty to licence chugging – I’m not aware of anyone else who has taken our view that we will have a duty to licence chugging, but not necessarily a duty to issue any licences. Of course, this is all irrelevant because the relevant regulations were never issued by this or the last government.

      In some other cases I know that the chugging problem had become so bad in an area they felt they had to enter an SMA to limit the problem. I think it’s fair to say that of those I have spoken to the reaction is mixed – some say the SMA is respected, others report that they have to actively manage it.

      • Sorry James for incorrectly stating the your local council has arranged a SMA with the PFRA and I congratulate you for standing your ground. I wish other councils had the same backbone. Many people avoid area’s where chuggers operate and therefore have a bad impact on local economies, so why can’t local councils have full control over their local ecomony particularly under the new governenments proposal of a ‘big society’. Shouldn’t it be a priority to protect the local electorate including vulnerable people from such agressive hard selling in the street? I just can’t believe that local authorites think its ok for such pressure selling and obtaining peoples bank details is acceptable in this day and age.

        I find it shocking that councils feel obliged to do a deal with a trade association with vested interests and its clear that there is a definate conlict of interests here. i will be questioning this towards our local MP but expect to get the usual speal of it being important to support charity, but to me thats not the point considering the above. If it would be just about charity, then fair enough but charity has changed and now there are corporate ‘for profit’ organisations involved so it should be considered differently and a conflict of interests is definately a factor now.

        I think councils felt they had very little option but to agree a SMA with the PFRA but what they should be doing is lobbying for the licence of chugging and to get the 2006 Charities Act section regarding street collections activated. I know some councils are doing this but all councils should be fighting for this. I believe that most people want to see the end of approach in the street with is basically a form of aggressive begging and if there is a domacracy I hope this happens.

      • Furthermore to my previous comments, I know that local charities are suffering because of chuggers and surely it is important to have a level playing field here so that local charities are not disadvantaged? Some support from the government towards local charities would be good also.