National Civic Amenities Site Conference

National Civic Amenities Site Conference

We are the voice of charity retail in the UK and are regularly invited to take our message to influential audiences.

On 7 June 2018, our Head of Public Affairs and Research, Matt Kelcher was invited to address the National Civic Amenities Site Conference in Leicester. This event brought together around 150 Civic Amenities Site managers from across the UK and Channel Islands and they heard a presentation from Matt on “Charities and Charging”. This focused on the advantages of councils partnering with charity shops to reduce waste going into landfill.

You can read his full speech below:

Good morning everyone and thank you very much for the invitation to speak at your national conference today.

My name is Matt Kelcher, and I’m here on behalf of the Charity Retail Association. If you’ve not heard of us before, we are the UK’s only trade association for charity shops.

About 80 per cent of all charity shops in the country are our members, ranging from the large high street chains right down to individual hospice shops. We are extremely proud to represent a sector which gives so much back to our economy, our society and our environment.

Last year, charity retail generated £270m for good causes, provided nearly 250,000 volunteer opportunities – more than even the scouts – and reduced the UK’s carbon emissions by about 6.8m tonnes.

My role at the Charity Retail Association is to head up our public affairs and campaigns operations. I’ve been doing this for about three years and before that did a variety of other roles including as an advisor in Westminster and as a council officer, though I must admit I was located in a nice air-conditioned civic centre rather than out at a civic amenities site.

Now, I have to admit, when our team received an invitation to speak at this event today there was a bit of debate about whether we should accept. Whisper it quietly, but some people in our sector are concerned that if we talk about council charging and charity waste, all we might succeed in doing is to encourage more civic amenities sites to charge.

But, in the end, we rejected this pessimism for one simple reason: charity shops have a great story to tell. When Councils don’t charge charity shops for disposing of domestic waste they make a great return on their investment.

When civic amenities sites and charity shops partner up there are great benefits to both parties. When we all work together the environmental outcomes clearly improve. So there is a strong case to make, and I intend to make that case today.

Waste charges to charities

The first thing I want to make clear is that the costs to charities of waste charging are real.

For example, Animals in Distress are a charity that rescues mistreated dogs, cats and rabbits across the south west. Their charity shop in Torbay enjoyed an excellent relationship with the Council for many years and they were never charged to dispose of the small percentage of donations they received which could not be sold or recycled.

However, between 2010 and 2015 new disposal prices were introduced which eventually increased to the full commercial rates. This had a crippling effect on their fundraising efforts as they had to find an extra £1,000 per month to dispose of unsellable items left at their shop, money which could be better invested in funding another animal welfare assistant or caring for an extra 20 animals each month.

This case became a little bit of a cause celebre and was taken up by the BBC’s consumer champion Dominic Littlewood, where he interviewed the most knowledgeable and handsome charity retail expert he could find. This example seemed to be indicative of a relatively new phenomenon of councils charging charity shops to dispose of household waste.

Waste donated to charity shops

Our shops are able to re-sell the vast majority of items donated to us by local residents; 99 per cent of donated books, 95 per cent of donated clothes and 92 per cent of donated music and video is re-used or recycled. The small amount left over needs to be disposed of. It is categorised as household waste because it originated from a domestic property and has not been altered in anyway.

Therefore, we believe charity shops should be able to dispose of this waste for free. We’re not asking for free collections and we’re not asking for business waste generated by the shop to be disposed of for free. But, if we bring this type household waste to one of your sites we should be able to dispose of it without charge.

And there are many benefits to doing this. If charity shops weren’t around residents would not have an ethical and sustainable option when they want to get rid of household items. This would mean that your councils would have to collect the waste instead, which incurs costs, and then dispose of it which incurs further costs.

Social Value of charity shops

Last year charity shops diverted over 330,000 tonnes of clothing out of landfill saving councils across the country a staggering £27m in Landfill Tax in the process.

Supporting local charity shops to thrive makes sound business sense for the council as well. And this is before you consider all of the social value generated by our activities which directly benefits local authorities.

Jobs and volunteering in charity retail

The charity retail sector provides over 22,000 jobs in the UK. These employees are closely integrated into their community with 70 per cent of charity shop managers coming from the area in which the charity shop is located.

Charity shops are the largest source of volunteer opportunities in the country, with 220,000 people volunteering each year. These experiences provide a boost for young people seeking employability skills, with 80 per cent of volunteers believing they have learned new skills through volunteering.

Volunteering can also help to combat social isolation and loneliness amongst older volunteers. This is why Community Service Volunteers (CSV) estimate that for every one pound spent on volunteers over three pounds of value was created through improved health outcomes.

And, of course, there is the huge amount of money we generate for good causes like running hospices, and, the benefit we generate for other local business by bringing footfall to the high street.

Fortunately, the vast majority of councils who run civic amenities sites understand this. Only one fifth of these councils say they would not accept this waste and very few of them would levy a charge for this service. Despite these positive headline figures it is very worrying for our members that a significant proportion of civic amenities sites impose waste disposal charges on charity shops as this can be very harmful to their fundraising efforts.

I must admit that the letter of the law on this matter is not 100 per cent clear.

Schedule one of the 2012 Controlled Waste Regulations lists various types of waste and categorises each of them. Waste from ‘a charity shop selling donated goods originating from domestic property’ is clearly listed as ‘domestic waste’. This should be enough to ensure that disposing of such waste is always free.

However, there is also the Environmental Protection Act, which governs much of what your site does and refers to domestic waste belonging only to a ‘person resident’ in the area.

Whilst there therefore appears to confusion in drafting and overlapping legislation, we believe there is absolutely no ambiguity when it comes to the government’s intention or the view of parliament.

The government’s official response on waste charges

The government’s official response to the public consultation on the new regulations when they were most recently rewritten in 2012.

Specifically, they responded to Question 20: ‘Do you agree that charity shops and re-use organisations should benefit from free waste disposal?’ by stating “charity shops do a huge amount to collect waste and reduce costs for local authorities and therefore it is ‘not appropriate’ to charge them to dispose of this form of domestic waste”.

Backing this up even further is an extract from the government’s own impact assessment on the proposed new regulations, again from 2012. I don’t believe there is any other way to read this. The government have clearly stated their intention to use the new regulations to ensure that charity shops can dispose of surplus household waste without charge.

This was passed and therefore it is also clearly the will of parliament. If the drafting wasn’t perfect this should not undermine this simple fact, so we are currently talking to DEFRA about how to clear up this problem. But, the last thing we want to do is run a campaign bogged down in legalese.

Councils and charities working together

We much prefer it when councils and charities realise that they can develop mutually beneficial arrangements by working together. A good example comes from a furniture and electrical charity shop run by one of our large members in Finchley. This shop has developed an excellent relationship with their Council.

When a local resident calls the Council to ask them to take away an old piece of furniture, white good, or other electrical item, the Council helpdesk will advise them that if they call the charity shop they will likely be able to collect the item sooner and will do so for free, whereas the Council levies a charge.

This benefits the Council as they do not incur the costs associated with the collection. It benefits the environment as the item stays out of landfill and is reused in the local economy. It benefits the charity shop as they get more items to sell and raise more money for their cause. Finally, it also benefits the resident who can arrange a quick, free and ethical collection of their old item.

Win. Win. Win.

Other examples of Council/charity shop partnerships include allowing a charity to run a shop at a household recycling centre, so that they can prevent items from going in into landfill and sell them back to local people instead.

Hertfordshire County Council do just this. At their Harpenden site they host a Sue Ryder shop which sells items left at the recycling centre and so this also reduces the amount going to landfill. The profits are split between council and charity shop.

This is a successful operation, evidenced by the fact that it is now being extended to other sites in the County. You might have a similar example at your own Civic Amenity Site.

So that’s the view of charity retail.

We are an open and innovative sector and we care just as deeply about sustainability and a circular economy as you. If you want to work with us, then we very much want to work with you.

Make an investment with charity retail and the long term pay back for you, your council and your community will be huge.

Matt Kelcher,
Head of Public Affairs and Research.