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Last Updated: Monday, 2 February, 2004, 16:34 GMT
Doorstep clothes donation worries
Items could be sold for profit, rather than given to the needy
Thinking of chucking out that old jumper but really feel you should donate it to a charity instead?

Despite all your good intentions, the weeks pass and it languishes at the back of your wardrobe. On the verge of chucking it in the bin, an easy solution lands on your doorstep...or rather, in your letter box.

It is an appeal for "urgently needed" clothing donations.

Poor people in eastern Europe and the third world need your cast-offs, say the leaflets.

Shoes and household linen are often too expensive to buy so "please help those who really need your support," they plead.

It fits the bill perfectly. With liberal use of the word "donate" and a general impression of helping those less fortunate, you can feel like you are fulfilling your need to be charitable - as though you were giving clothes to the Salvation Army or a charity shop.

Fine print

All you have to do is put that old jumper in a plastic bag outside your door on the designated day where it will be collected.

Collections deprive genuine charities of significant sources of revenue
Christine Wade
Office of Fair Trading
But read the fine print. While the words "donate", "help", and "support" may suggest altruistic aims, these companies are going to sell your clothes.

The Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints last year that a flyer from one company, Olonex Ltd, implied the company was a registered charity.

The flyers from Olonex and Kosta Ltd both state "We support HK LT Charity" with an identification number in Lithuania underneath.

Another firm, describing itself as Kraslava Services Seven Ltd, points out on its leaflet that it is a commercial organisation and not a charity.

This is in very small print at the bottom of leaflet which refers to a "Third World clothing appeal" and says, "Your donations are sent to the third world countries to help clothe the poor."

The Advertising Standards Authority says it has looked into complaints but has not been able to stop the companies advertising.

Charities lose out

The only avenue remaining was to ask the Office of Fair Trading to take action, which continues to investigate under the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations.

The Association of Charity Shops that the potential value of donated clothing and other items "lost" to legitimate charities as a result of these collections amounts to over 1m per annum.

BBC News Online tried to reach Olonex and Kosta using the mobile and landline numbers at the bottom of the flyers.

We are here to maintain public confidence in charities, and they - while some do not claim to actually be charities - are deceiving the public
Charity Commission spokeswoman
The mobile answer phone was unable to accept any more messages and the landline - a number in Lithuania - was not able to be connected. The UK register of charities did not list the organisation named on the leaflets.

Such collections "deprive genuine charities of significant sources of revenue," said the director of the consumer regulation enforcement division of OFT, Christine Wade, said.

'Deceiving the public'

"We want people to be alert to the practices of unscrupulous individuals and companies that seek to exploit their generosity and goodwill," she went on.

The Charity Commission said it was concerned about the advertising, but that it was impossible to measure the impact on legitimate charities.

"We are here to maintain public confidence in charities, and they - while some do not claim to actually be charities - are deceiving the public," a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

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