Chugging along nicely?

Chugging, or “charity mugging”, remains a topic which divides. You may say it’s all for a good cause, but on the other hand you may also be short on patience if you are accosted continually by cheery charity workers with umbrellas (“chumbrellas”?). Fear not, lovers of all things licensing – as the practice of collecting charity money from the public is indeed another area of public life which is governed by licensing laws!

This is undergoing somewhat of a period of transition. The existing law is under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and this Act requires persons collecting charity money in the street to hold a Public Charitable Collections permit. This is a permit issued by the local authority (or “ra cooncil” as many local authorities are known in the West of Scotland). The specific requirement arises when there is a “collection from the public of money (whether given by them for consideration or not) for charitable purposes taken either in a public place or by means of visits from place to place”.

But this regime is about to be dropped in favour of a rebranded permission called a Public Benevolent Collections permit (did you spot the difference?). This new permit will in many ways be very similar to the old one, albeit the legal footing has been switched from civic licensing legislation to charities legislation, namely the Charity and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.

The 2005 Act provisions on public benevolent collections are not yet in force and according to the Scottish Parliament timetable, a consultation on regulations under the 2005 Act should be imminent. The regulations themselves are scheduled to come into force “late 2012”. That probably means summer 2013.

One of the differences between the two regimes is when the licensing requirement “kicks in”. Under the 2005 Act, the definition is a “collection from the public of money or promises of money (whether or not given by them for a consideration by way of goods or services) for the benefit of benevolent bodies or for charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purposes taken either (a) in a public place, or (b) by means of visits to two or more houses or business premises”.

A key difference for me is this idea of “promises of money”. At the moment, a “promise of money” is not regulated and this is why chuggers, or charity muggers, do not need a public charitable collections permit – they are not taking money but instead signing people up to direct debit deals: promises of money. The 2005 regulations therefore seem to strike at the practice of chugging and although it will not become illegal per se, charities will require to apply for a permit and therefore local council’s will have more powers to address public nuisance concerns about the allegedly aggressive nature of certain chuggers.

Of course I will invoke a traditional legal catchphrase at this point by indicating that the “devil is in the detail” – look out for the Consultation.

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About Stephen McGowan

Leading Scottish licensing solicitor at TLT. Chairman of BII Scotland.
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