Julian Knight: In the name of charity, get rid of chuggers

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The Independent Online

You do see some sights in Hammersmith, where I live. Just yards from my front door this morning was someone dressed as Pudsey Bear, holding a big bucket.

Although the forced jollity of Children in Need has all the comic timing of a state funeral – and there is no earthly justification for the crime of Jeremy Vine wearing stockings and suspenders – I don’t mind giving a couple of quid to someone willing to dress up daft and stand in the pouring rain for a good cause.

But on walking into work I meet the manipulative face of modern charity; the teams of chuggers – a mix of charity collector and mugger – working the High Street. They are there every day, often the same people but in different- coloured jackets emblazoned with the name of the charity they are pitching for this week. This is the routine: they position themselves, with military precision, in the narrowest point on the pavement – where it’s hardest to get past (they should have based the smash-hit videogame Modern Warfare 2 on a team of chuggers). They accost me with shouts of “hello mate” inches from my face – a prelude to launching into some passive-aggressive sales spiel. And when I say “no thanks”, I’ve had times when these chuggers have snidely said: “Why, don’t you care, mate?”

But I do care about charity and that’s precisely the reason why I will never sign up to a pushy chugger. You see, these people aren’t volunteers, they are commission-hungry salespeople and they and their bosses take a big chunk of the cash that the giver thinks is going to the charity. What’s more, the damage that is done to the reputation of the charitable sector by what in modern marketing speak is called face-to-face fundraising – and I reckon if Dick Turpin were alive he’d have claimed to have been in face-to-face fundraising – is untold. They’re a menace and this Christmas shopping season they’ll

be everywhere, blocking a pavement near you, and trying their damnedest to push our collective guilt button. Don’t let them. We can all give directly to any charity we want to anyway.

It’s time to pressure the banks

As we report, the seemingly never-ending bank charges saga will take another twist this week. The Supreme Court will decide whether the Office of Fair Trading has the right to decide if the billions in charges levied by banks are unfair. The banks want to stop the OFT capping their charges, and, if they win, the implications for consumer protection will be massive. Basically, the OFT and the structure of UK consumer protection will be torched. These are big stakes indeed.

But if the banks lose then they really should leave the OFT to get on with its job. The RBS and Lloyds, which are basically nationalised, ought to be reminded that it’s not in the public interest to fight with what is, in effect, another part of the Government, the OFT. As for the Financial Services Authority’s generous freeze on bank-charge complaints, which is due to run till January but allows banks to continue to levy bumper fees, this should be ended immediately. In short, the Government and the FSA need to push the banks’ pressure points and get them to stop dragging this out any longer.

There are signs that some banks could be looking for a way out. The campaigning consumer website Moneysavingexpert published a Nationwide internal memo preparing staff to repay bank charges where people meet what it calls “exceptional circumstances”, such as incurring charges due to hospitalisation, bereavement, redundancy, relationship breakdown learning difficulties or even imprisonment. That’s a pretty wide interpretation of “hardship” and could lead to lots of claims being repaid.

And Abbey unveiled Zero, a new, no-charges bank account which seems revolutionary until the small print reveals that you can only get it if you have an Abbey mortgage. Have a bank account without a mortgage and you pay 28.7 per cent on unauthorised borrowing and a monthly fee of £25. That surely won’t pass muster if the OFT gets the chance to impose a cap.

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