How a trip for milk gave me my legal mission for 2016

Thanks to a recent trip for some milk, I now know what I want to achieve professionally in 2016.

Some background.

I needed milk. Therefore, I decided to go to the store to get some. The store is approximately 2 and a half blocks from my home, along a main road and then a small plaza type area with some shops. Exciting stuff, isn’t it?

Then it happened. I am sure it has happened to you too. It has happened to everyone that lives near a shopping area, or works in a high pedestrian traffic area.

I ran into this guy.

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And then, just one block later, I saw these guys.

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AND THEN, perhaps 200 metres further along the road, this specimen decided to get right into my face. It is not clear in this photo, but she was actually chasing this guy for a good 100 metres.

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And guess what? Not one of them would take ‘no thanks’ for an answer when they asked if I wanted to hear about their particular cause or charity. Instead, they each launched into remarkably similar scripts. I was first asked how my day was going. The person would then proffer their hand for me to shake, as if we were old friends or business associates.

I had no idea where each of these peoples’ hands have been, or what else they have shaken, stroked or rubbed that day, so I did my best to politely decline each approach and move on with my quest for the milk.

But no, it wasn’t going to be that simple. As I continued to try and walk past these iPad-clasping, smiling, enthusiastic wastes of space, I was accused of ‘not caring about the children in Africa’, of not being smart enough to figure out on my own that $30 a month was ‘just a dollar a day, mate’, and being ‘too selfish to care about anyone else’.

Now, to be clear, I do care about all children regardless of their background, my maths isn’t the best but I can still do division if I have a pen and paper handy, and as for being selfish… well, that’s true but I don’t feel it was the place of these particular individuals to judge me on it.

I’ll put you out of your misery and tell you that yes, I did survive each encounter and yes, I did get milk. But then, on my way back, one of these zealots (my stalker mate above in the black shirt) tried to stop me again. Same exact person, same exact approach. I was in equal parts amazed at her persistence, and incredibly enraged down to the core of my soul by having my personal space invaded for a second time in 10 minutes.

I am sick of being hassled by these sorts of people in the street, of having to constantly keep an eye out for them in the Pitt Street Mall, of trying to dodge them or steer some poor person into their path to take one for the team.

This sort of in-your-face charitable soliciting must end, or at least there needs to be some sort of control or limits placed on it. I plan to spend a good part of 2016 trying to get something done so that I can safely walk to the store for milk without the frustration, interruption and criticism of street-based charity workers.

The first part of my mission is to get some background on this sort of fundraising, and the laws around it that are currently in place.

Street soliciting for charitable donations has a couple of different names. To stick to the generally used names, the people that do this stuff are:

  • face-to-face collectors;
  • F2F (face-to-face) charitable workers;
  • street solicitors (so many different ways to construe this one, each of which is correct); or
  • ‘chuggers’, which are charity muggers. I don’t mind this one. I think I’ll use it excessively in this post.

The law around charities and fundraising is governed by State and Territory law, rather than Federal or Commonwealth law, so for those of us in New South Wales we have to turn to the Charitable Fundraising Act 2001 (NSW) and the associated regulations.

This area of law is now overseen by the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading, although they don’t really seem to have that much to do given how weak and loose our law is in this area.

I had hoped that there would be something in the law that prevented chuggers from going too far, or being too demanding or pushy in their dealings with the public. At the very least, I was hoping there would be something in the law that said they can’t take advantage of those that might not understand what they are signing up for (like the very young or very old), or include regulations that prohibit behaviour like chasing people down the street or abusing them if they refuse to sign up to the charity.

Nope, nothing in the law about any of this. In fact, there is only one requirement for face-to-face charitable workers, in order for them to comply with the law.

Name badges.

Yes, they have to wear a name badge, and even this was seen as controversial when it was introduced to the regulations under the Act. Charities tried to argue that introducing a name badge requirement had the potential to impose an unfair financial burden on them, given all the printing and laminating costs.

I’m calling moo poo on that argument. How much does it cost to make a name badge?

Other than the name badge law, there is no express laws that set out what face-to-face charitable workers can and cannot do. Oh, sure, if they hit someone they are going to be charged with assault or battery, or if they steal money they’ll be charged with theft. I presume they could be done for fraud if they act all fraudy.

However, in terms of actual binding enforceable law, the current position is that so long as they are wearing their little name badge, they comply with the charity laws of New South Wales.

Pretty poor result, in my view. These workers are at their best annoying, and at their worst very confronting. They make me feel like my personal walking world has been invaded by a virus that has a clipboard or iPad, a poster of either a child or a small, helpless animal, and a level of enthusiasm for their task that would rival that shown by a puppy chasing another puppy and then the puppies getting into a wrestle and then sniffing each others’ nether regions.

Except the chuggers are much less adorable.

In the United Kingdom, they actually did something about chugging, as a direct response to the type of issues I’ve raised above (although the action groups that made submissions to the UK Government put their positions much more eloquently than I have).

The Public Fundraising Association in the UK was recently established with the stated aim of working with local Councils to set up co-regulatory voluntary agreements on the way in which face-to-face collectors are allowed to carry out their collection work in that local government area.

The way in which these agreements work is, truly, fascinating. Some highlights include:

  • each charity enters into a Site Management Agreement with the Council that sets out where the chuggers can work, and makes sure that there are not too many different groups of chuggers in a particular area;
  • limits on the days and times that chuggers can work – for example, they are generally not allowed to work on very busy times of day like the morning or afternoon peak times during the working week;
  • there are penalty provisions if a worker breaches the agreement or the Rules established by the Public Fundraising Association. For example, if a worker approaches someone who is seated, that’s a breach and the charity can be penalised. Following someone for more than 3 steps is a more serious breach with larger penalties. Penalties carry with them a certain point value depending on how serious the breach is, and once the charity hits 1,000 points, they are charged 1 pound per point; and
  • issuing a Rule Book that sets out the code of conduct to which charities that use face-to-face workers agree to comply. There is a specific set of rules for charity workers on the street, which focuses on areas of ‘Respect’, ‘Safety’ and ‘Information’. It makes it very clear that activities such as harassing individuals or deliberately targeting the vulnerable are not on, and result in serious penalties for the charity. The Public Fundraising Association monitors compliance through a ‘mystery shopper’ type arrangement, where members of the Association go deep under cover to see what the chuggers are up to.

 

I would LOVE to see a Rule Book or set of standards similar to that applied in the United Kingdom used here.

There has been some (very small) movement in the self-regulation area in Australia, with a number of major charities now signatories to the Public Funding Regulatory Association. This is a voluntary compliance system whereby members agree to follow the rules set down by this Association. To be fair, it does cover things like ensuring chuggers do not take advantage of the vulnerable, and minimise the nuisance they cause. But, perhaps because it has been written by the charities seeking to raise funds in this way, it is very high level compared to the rules in the UK, and there are nowhere near the same level of penalties for breaches. More work clearly needs to be done in this area, and I’d love to see an independent body responsible for these rules.

I believe that regulation in this area is lacking, and that there is sufficient evidence and precedent for New South Wales to lead the way in Australia in clarifying the way in which street collections for charities are conducted, and how they are not to be conducted.

Next step? I am not sure. Stern letter to Premier Baird perhaps? Or hit him up on his Facebook page maybe? Suggestions very welcome!

 

4 thoughts on “How a trip for milk gave me my legal mission for 2016

    1. They’d just see that as an indication that you’ve donated in the past, so should donate again. Or ask you to donate more ‘just to make sure’. They are like The Terminator. They cannot be reasoned or bargained with and do not feel pity or remorse.

      Like

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