New rules to control paid street fundraisers who encourage people to sign up for direct debit donations have been unveiled by the government.
Face-to-face fundraising has suffered from a poor image
In future the agents will need permits to operate, and local authorities may choose to restrict the numbers operating in certain areas, or at particular times.
The draft Charities Bill was part of a major overhaul in charity law announced this week. It was welcomed by the fundraisers who see it as a vote of confidence in their work.
The paid agents have suffered from a poor public image in the past.
Dubbed "chuggers", short for charity muggers, they have been criticised for being pushy, and because they operate in groups.
The Charities Minister Fiona MacTaggart admitted the public is 'besieged' by paid fundraisers in some places and that it risks damaging the public's goodwill towards giving to charity.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's Money Box she said:
"If we make sure that we can regulate the number of fundraisers in an area, and that there can be real clarity about [where the money] goes, and what sorts of costs are involved in fundraising, then we can make sure people stay confident in charities' ability to do good."
When someone signs up on the street, the vast majority of most donations in the first year actually goes to pay the agent and their firm.
The charity employing them is investing in the hope that people will keep donations going for many years, because it will then begin to benefit.
It is a controversial fundraising method since it cannot always be guaranteed to pay off for the charity, but in drafting the legislation the government has in effect given it approval to continue.
The minister said she wanted to educate the public that it does cost money to raise funds.
She said: "I think that there is this kind of myth that things are free. I am keen to educate the public... It might cost 90 pence in the pound in the first year... [But] It is right, so long as you know what the cost is."
Despite that, the proposals do not yet insist that street agents reveal exactly how much of a person's donation is going to help the charity initially.
Sue Brumpton of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, which represents fundraisers, does not think street agents will ever say that. She told the programme:
"It will never be possible because it depends on how much you give and how long you give for.
"Some of your money is obviously going to pay wages, and to pay the overhead costs of that fundraising agency.
"But if you think that it is an investment medium, it is at least a three-to-one return on the charity's investment."
And while the new licensing system might mean fewer street agents in existing hot spots, they will now be free to spread out across the country, as Sue Brampton admits:
"In areas where there has not been any yet, fundraising will start.
"It is unfortunate that people can find things irritating, but face-to-face fundraisers are going to become part of the street furniture trying to help charity do their good work."
BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 29 May, 2004, at 1204 BST.
The programme was repeated on Sunday, 30 May 2004, at 2102 BST