'Those who need charity shops most are being priced out'

Once the place for a bargain, many stock vintage and upmarket clothing, and face claims of price hikes. But the industry says they are vital for struggling high streets

The recession, and the UK public's ever-vigilant eye for a bargain, has helped swell the number of charity shops on our high streets.

According to the Charity Retail Association (CRA), there were more than 10,200 charity shops in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2013. In the last six months of last year the number rose by 10 per cent.

As the number increased, so apparently has the price of the clothes they sell, particularly in areas where affluent people live.

Concern over the number of charity shops dominating the high street led retail guru Mary Portas to suggest capping the 80 per cent business-rate relief they receive. Her proposals were left out of the Government report published in 2011, but are being considered by the Welsh Assembly.

Once the preserve of financially challenged students, OAPs looking for bargains or fancy-dress hunters, some charity shops have all but re-branded themselves as purveyors of vintage, designer and up-market clothing, with increased prices to match.

The Independent took a look along one local high street, in the market town of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire.

The town's population has doubled in size over the last 20 years, and it is home to an increasing number of wealthy retirees as well as commuters who work in the City of London.

In the British Heart Foundation shop we found a Hobbs grey suit for £40, and in Oxfam a coat which looked like faux fur but had no label, for £50. Also seen in the Sue Ryder shop was a top from Atmosphere – Primark's own-brand label – for £5, the same price as it would cost from the retailer brand new.

Oxfam admitted that designer clothes or those with well-known or coveted labels had become more popular as people sought bargains during the recession.

Clare Wilkinson, press spokesperson for Oxfam, said: "Oxfam allows individual shop managers to decide the prices of stock for this reason. This can mean that if the shop is in an affluent area – London's Notting Hill for example – the item may be more expensive than if it's put on sale in a small town in Cumbria.

"We need to respect the donation; if we get a Chanel bag, for example, we are not going to price it at £300 but we are not going to price it at 99p either."

She added that if a high-value item is donated to a shop in a remote area, it might be sent to a shop where it is more likely to sell and can therefore be priced higher.

But one charity shop worker, who didn't want to be named, pointed out that not everyone in an affluent area will be earning a six-figure salary.

The worker said: "The ones who really need the charity shops are being priced out. There is a lot poverty...

"People who rely on their local charity shop to clothe themselves and their kids – they are not going to care whether it's designer or not. And in some of these shops it's mostly designer labels that are donated.

"If someone is looking for work and needs a cheap suit, they won't be able to find it."

But charity shops are adamant the price of clothes they charge remains reasonable.

Liam Challenger, of the CRA, said: "There is no evidence at all that charity shops have increased the price of their clothes; in fact the average transaction value for general charity shops is low – at £5.59 – and has remained steady over recent years.

"Over half of those on the very lowest incomes shop in charity shops."

The Salvation Army chain of shops, which has reportedly recorded an increase in its minimum spend – although it would not confirm how much – said that the rise was inevitable.

Its shops are run by a separate company, the Salvation Army Trading Company, which between 2010 and 2013 gave £22.5m to the organisation.

Claire Anderson, of the Salvation Army Trading Company, said: "We understand the need for charity shops to sometimes review prices, as the cost of retailing on the high street is increasing all the time."

Mike Taylor, retail director for the British Heart Foundation (BHF), also claimed the price of all items was reasonable, and still accessible to people of all budgets.

He said: "We closely track the prices of our items, making sure they reflect the current market conditions. Currently, the average price of items sold in BHF clothing shops is down this year, with an average item of clothing being sold for approximately £4.80.

"When we receive extremely high-quality, stand-out items, we price these accordingly, taking into consideration the wish of our donors – to generate maximum funds for the charity.

"If we have a particularly high-value item, we often send them to our eBay team to ensure the fairest price is paid for it (www.ebay.co.uk/bhf).

"We're lucky to receive generous donations from the general public," he added.

"Stock is the lifeblood of our shops and without these donations, we couldn't raise money to fight against heart disease.

"The BHF currently funds over 1,000 research projects and over half of all heart research across the UK.

"The money raised in our shops and furniture and electrical stores enables us to keep fighting against coronary heart disease, the UK's single-biggest killer."

The CRA claims charity shops are more important than ever.

Mr Challenger said: "Without them Britain's high streets would be in an even worse state."

He said that charity shops employ an estimated 17,200 staff across the UK and have an army of about 213,000 volunteers.

"In a survey we found charity-shop volunteers value the chance to gain retail experience as a path to paid employment, or back into employment after illness or injury.

"We also found that charity shops provide a place for those with poor physical or mental health to socialise and build self-esteem: older people and vulnerable people use charity shops to 'drop in' for a chat. Charity shops combat social isolation for both customers and volunteers."

Ms Anderson agreed: "Salvation Army charity shops are an integral part of communities around the UK and we see the shops very much as mission stations; our staff are trusted and on occasion members of the public seek information about our homelessness services or family tracing service through our shops."

Case study: Anna Watkins

Anna Watkins, from Stansted in Essex, has a five-year-old son

"There's definitely been an increase in the price of clothes, but on other items it's still a giveaway. I bought a booster car seat for £1. Most games are around £1.

"As far as clothes are concerned, yes, you can buy almost as cheap new but you're talking Primark not Prada. You have to compare the price to new designer clothes not new cheap clothes. You cannot compare the two.

"For me, the real excitement still lies in not knowing what I'm going to find. I know I'm going to find a unique piece or at least last season's items for a fraction of the price!"

Case Study Ruth Colbridge

Ruth Colbridge from Lancaster has two young children

"I have noticed an increase in the price of clothes. I think the shops are just getting more savvy, though, because some people buy from charity shops and then resell things on eBay. Most of what I've seen is still a bargain.

"I got an almost brand-new Kaliko suit jacket for £7 and a pair of Office shoes for £5 a couple of months ago.

I saw a Guess full-length camel coat for £20 the other week – I wanted it really badly, but it came without the belt and I knew it would annoy me.

"I don't mind paying a bit more as it's helping the charity.

Also, it's worth remembering that someone else has given their money to the unethical companies that make the garments in the first place."

Stores by numbers

10,200

Charity shops in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2013

80%

Business-rate relief they receive

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

    Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

    .NET Software Developer (.NET, C#, ASP.NET, front-end)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

    C# Web developer (C#,MVC,ASP.NET,SQL)

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C# Web d...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried