By Daniel Hunter

Street fundraisers who hassle people into giving their bank details are deterring shoppers from visiting town centres, a survey of local authorities has revealed.

Councils are calling for updated powers to clamp down on so-called 'chuggers' — also known as 'charity muggers' — who congregate in large numbers on busy shopping streets and use aggressive tactics to obtain donations.

A survey carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA) shows that more than two out of three councils (68 per cent) have received complaints about street fundraisers from the public, businesses and other groups including the voluntary sector.

Many chuggers are agency workers employed by major charities. Because they collect bank details rather than cash, they do not have to abide by the rules which apply to volunteers with charity collection tins.

The outdated Charities Act means that local authorities often have little power to regulate them, or intervene if they cause a nuisance to shoppers and businesses.

Several councils have been working with charities to draw up voluntary codes of conduct for fundraisers to follow, which have started to prove successful at minimising problems. However, local authorities need updated powers to act where chuggers persistently cause problems,

According to the LGA's survey of local authorities, almost three in four councils (72 per cent) considered chugging to be a problem in their area, to at least a small extent. More than half (54 per cent) said street fundraisers were putting potential shoppers off visiting their local high street.

Most complaints about chuggers came from residents. Of those councils who had received complaints:

- 81 per cent had received complaints from residents;
- more than half (54 per cent) had received complaints from local business;
- one in five (20 per cent) said complaints had come from the voluntary and community sector, including a handful of other fundraisers.

Nearly one in four local authorities (24 per cent) said chuggers were out in force every day and a further 43 per cent said street fundraisers were out collecting on a weekly basis.

Councils are calling on Government to improve their powers to intervene in town and city centres when things get out of hand. Local areas should be able to place restrictions on when and where corporate street fundraisers can collect, and how many can gather in one street.

Updated legislation would also create a level playing field between agency workers soliciting bank details for big charities and volunteers collecting coins on behalf of other good causes.

This would allow councils to ensure that local charity collections are not sidelined by overbearing chuggers.

"Charities are the lifeblood for some of the world's most vulnerable and needy people and councils appreciate how important street collections are for funding the vital work they do," Cllr Nilgun Canver, the LGA's Licensing Champion, said.

"The vast majority of fundraisers are great ambassadors for their charities but, unfortunately, a small but significant minority of over-zealous collectors are making a nuisance of themselves, harassing people and giving other charity workers a bad name.

"People have been chased down the street and shouted at for not pledging money, while shops have complained that customers will cross the road or walk away rather than run the gauntlet of a tag team of chuggers. In some areas, the problem has got so bad that people have been put off visiting their local high streets altogether.

"Councils need more powers to make town and city centres attractive to shoppers and this should include the authority to intervene when chuggers congregate in large numbers or intimidate people with unprofessional behaviour.

"The current legislation is out of date and in a mess. Government needs to remove the double standard which currently means volunteers collecting coins for a local hospice need a licence, but agency workers seeking pledges for national charities do not. This will not only protect shoppers from being pestered by intrusive fundraisers, but also allow councils to support smaller local charities by allocating certain areas and times for collections to ensure they do not get crowded out by chuggers.

"Local authorities and charities have gone some way towards tackling the problem of intrusive fundraisers by establishing voluntary codes of conduct for street collections in their areas. We now need government to catch up and ensure that all councils have the necessary means to ensure that charities can prosper without residents and shoppers being unduly harassed."

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