What is a charity shop?

Charity shops are largely a British institution. They are retail outlets selling mainly second-hand donated goods to raise funds for their parent charities. Every year charity shops raise more than £295m for a range of causes in the UK. They also function as a way of raising awareness of the parent charity.

Charity shops can only be set up by charities. Learn more about how charity shops work.

When was the first charity shop opened?

In the 19th century the Salvation Army ran second hand clothing shops to provide the urban poor with cheap clothing. At the outbreak of World War Two, other charities such as the British Red Cross also started to operate shops as a way to raise money for the war effort and relieve hardship.

Modern charity shops as we understand them – retail units selling overwhelmingly donated goods to raise as much cash as possible for the parent charity – did not appear until after World War Two. The first of these was opened by Oxfam in 1947 and is still in operation today.

Oxfam were swamped by donations from the public (mostly blankets and clothing) following its appeal for aid to alleviate the post-war situation in Greece. The success of this appeal yielded so many donations that it was decided to set up a shop in Oxford to sell a portion of these and to use the profits to further fund aid in Greece.

How many charity shops are there in the UK and Republic of Ireland?

Our current estimate is more than 11,200 shops in the UK:

84 per cent are in England
8 per cent are in Scotland
5 per cent are in Wales
3 per cent are in Northern Ireland

There are more than 400 shops in the Republic of Ireland. They are represented by the Irish Charity Shops Association, www.icsa.ie.

Who works in charity shops?

Although there has been an increase in the number of paid staff in recent years, the majority of people working in charity shops are volunteers. There are more than 230,000 retail volunteers nationwide, and some shops are run entirely by volunteers.

Why do people shop in charity shops?

  • Many people shop in charity shops because they want to support the activities of the parent charity.
  • A growing number of people use charity shops because of the environmental and ethical benefits of the reuse of goods, rather than buying completely new goods, or dumping used goods.
  • Other people shop in charity shops because they like the range of goods available. Many charity shops stock clothes, furnishings, crockery, CDs and videos which are no longer available in other stores.
  • Many people visit charity shops to pick up retro and vintage clothing in particular.
  • Charity shops are also popular because the prices are often lower than other shops, even commercial second-hand shops.

Where do the goods in charity shops come from?

More than 90 per cent of charity shop sales are from donations. Some shops sell ‘bought-in’ goods. These are new goods which are sold for profit. From our surveys, we know that the average charity shop sells around six per cent of new goods.

Many shops sell only donated goods, but others sell both bought-in and ethically produced ‘fair trade’ goods. However, a shop must sell wholly or mainly donated goods in order to retain its status as serving a “charitable purpose”.

What do charity shops sell?

Most charity shops sell ladies’, men’s and children’s clothing, books, toys, ornaments, kitchenware, dvds, music, computer games, furnishings and bric-a-brac. Some charity shops also sell furniture and electrical appliances, and some are specialist shops, such as bookshops, bridal or music.

What tax concessions do charity shops get?

Charity shops benefit from tax concessions under UK tax law because all the profits from a charity shop go to fund the work of the charity, which provides public benefit. Charity shops, therefore, serve a charitable purpose.

Charity shops benefit from exemption from corporation tax on profits, a zero VAT rating on the sale of donated goods and 80 per cent mandatory non-domestic rate relief, on property taxes. This is funded by central Government.

A further 20 per cent rate relief is available at the discretion of local authorities. Other types of business are eligible for different sorts of relief from full business rates liability; these include small business rate relief, and relief for small shops in rural settlements.

What happens to the money that is raised?

Money that has been raised goes to the parent charity, to further their charitable work. Charity shops raise more than £295m, funding medical research, overseas aid, environmental initiatives, supporting sick and deprived children, homeless people, mentally and physically disabled people, for animal welfare and for many other causes.