It is silly season, but even so I’m surprised at how the chugging issue has taken off. It’s got a fair chunk of coverage via the media and generated a rather pleasing set of supportive emails and messages for me.

What is absolutely bizarre, however, has been the response of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority (PRFA) who seem to have what can best be described as a bunker mentality. They are currently pushing the line that it’s all a set-up. In an article in Third Sector (registration required) the PRFA accused Wandsworth and Westminster of conspiring to orchestrate a campaign against chuggers:

Mick Aldridge, chief executive of the PFRA, said he suspected the two Tory-run councils were orchestrating a campaign against street fundraising.
“I suspect that formally or informally Westminster and Wandsworth have been conferring,” he said. A spokeswoman for Westminster denied this.

I’ll deny it too. The timing of our press release had far more to do with the fact I spent most of last week in Lincolnshire with a very poor internet connection and only approved it this week. There’s no recent mention of chuggers on Westminster Council’s website and I imagine they told journalists about their plans to take advantage of the publicity.

Perhaps the PRFA don’t realise two councils independently expressing concern – supported by huge numbers of residents – might actually be a sign their chuggers are a real problem and councils, quite rightly, want to do something about it.

Rather than portraying themselves as the victims, they should be thinking about the thousands of people who are victims of hassle, harassment and haranguing from chuggers on our high streets every day.

I’ve thought long and hard how to say this, but I’ve decided it’s best to be open about it. I don’t like chuggers (charity muggers) or, to give them their proper title, face-to-face fundraisers.

I hinted at this nearly two weeks ago when I complained about their activities on St John’s Road. At the time I said I wanted to mull the subject over before writing at any length. And having mulled it over I’ve decided it is, for me, a fairly binary subject. You either like them, or you don’t. There is no in-between.

This isn’t a misanthropic diatribe against charity. I would like to think I am a generous donor. Like most people I have a few preferred charities, mainly because I have a personal connection with them, but will also offer sporadic donations to a number of causes over the course of the year. Charitable giving has a long and noble history in this country – charities were looking after the poor and unfortunate long before the welfare state was created to replace self-dependence with state-dependence.

I have no issue with chairty, but I do have a problem with the use of commission-paid companies and employees trying to persuade people to sign up direct debits on the street.

In fact, I have a number of problems.

I really don’t like the hard-sell combination of the incredibly worthy cause and the small, small direct debit that makes you feel guilty. To me it smacks of the worst type of pressure selling.

I don’t like the fact that it creates an idea that giving over your personal details – name, address and bank details – to a total stranger is a normal and ordinary thing to do.

I resent being followed by someone to whom I have already said no, but who seems to think a smile and pleading will make me stop and listen to the patter.

And I hate the fact that it makes me feel I have to walk down the street purposely avoiding eye-contact with another human being.

Many people have similar opinions. From conversations I’ve had I know many dislike the chugging risks inherent in a trip to the high street. You can often see many will cross a road (bringing road-safety issues) to avoid being chugged – indeed I will admit a grudging respect for the way chugging teams have adapted their tactics to work in pairs to make such escapes less effective. In addition to all of this I know many traders feel chugging has a detrimental effect on their business.

Obviously, there are those that would put the contrary argument. Many charities obviously feel the benefits they get in terms of cash outweigh any negative perceptions of chugging. I’m sure there are some who might chuggers enhance the street-scene and add to the atmosphere of an area. Thinking of secondary benefits, there’s probably a strong argument that the consistent presence of individuals on a street watching the crowds will help reduce crime in that area.

Chuggers have a trade organisation, the Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association, who will enter ‘voluntary’ agreements with local authorities on things like the times, places and number of chuggers who will be used in a specific area. And this is where my feeling that this is a rather binary issue comes into play. If we were to enter into a voluntary agreement, do I have any right to say that Monday’s shoppers should be unmolested, but that Tuesday’s shoppers are fair game? Or that you can target Balham but not Tooting?

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to say this is something I don’t like – but will allow in moderate amounts. And in any case, it’s a voluntary agreement with little meaning. The PFRA will not accept it if they feel they are losing prime roads or opportunities and the council cannot enforce anything – there is no law regulating this type of fundraising.

This might, however, be changing. Although unlikely, it’s possible there will be a new law before the election allowing local council’s to regulate the use of face-to-face fundraising in their area. And so I would really like to get your input and comments.

I’m aware I might be totally wrong in implying that other, more traditional, forms of fund-raising are enough. Am I totally wrong and just being a miser?

Do you think chuggers enhance or detract from our town centres?

Are there times or places they are appropriate and some they are not?