Charities watchdog proposes scrapping police permit for public fund-raisers

The charities watchdog is proposing that charities disclose details of their fund-raiser on the Charity Portal instead. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Commissioner of Charities (COC) is proposing to do away with the need for charities to apply for a police permit before they raise funds in public, such as through flag days, carnivals, concerts and any face-to-face soliciting for donations on the streets.

Instead, charities have to disclose details of their fund-raiser on the Charity Portal, the COC's website, at least one month before the fund-raiser starts.

These details include the purpose of the fund-raiser, its duration, mode of collection and the charity's contact details. If a third-party fund-raiser, such as companies that take a cut of the donations raised, is involved, the charity is required to make public more information.

Such information includes the third-party fund-raiser's name and the written agreement the charity made with the third-party fund-raiser containing details of the fund-raising appeal.

Charities also have to do their own due diligence to ensure these third-party fund-raisers are "bona fide organisations and credible and trusted to carry out public fund-raising appeals", said the COC.

The COC has been seeking the public's feedback from May 5 to 26 on a revised regulatory regime for public fund-raising appeals.

Besides the public consultation, the COC is also having dialogue sessions with some charities to hear their views.

The COC told The Straits Times: "With a maturing charity landscape, the proposed changes seek a better balance between making it easier for bona fide charities and fund-raisers to raise funds by streamlining processes, and the appropriate transparency and accountability safeguards to help members of the public make informed decisions on their donations."

The House to House and Street Collections Act was introduced in 1947 to regulate soliciting from the streets or going from house-to-house for donations.

Charities conducting such forms of public fund raising have to apply for a House to House and Street Collections licence from the police.

If the charity is a member of the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), it has to apply for a fund-raising permit from the NCSS.

In 2018 and 2019, the police issued about 450 such licences a year and the NCSS issued about 400 fund-raising permits a year.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the issuance of such licences have been suspended since April 7, 2020, the COC said.

With the proposed changes, relevant legislation such as fund-raising regulations in the Charities Act will be amended to enable the COC to take appropriate regulatory actions against charities if they fail to comply with the requirements or if they wilfully give inaccurate information.

The penalties for those who do not comply could be similar to those currently imposed under the Charities Act and Fundraising Regulations, the COC said.

The proposed changes are expected to be implemented by the last quarter of the year.

Charities interviewed, such as Blessed Grace Social Services which helps gambling addicts and others, as well as youth mental health charity Limitless, welcome the proposed changes. They said the changes would ease their administrative workload and make it easier for them to plan their fund-raisers.

Chairman of Lions Befrienders, Mr Anthony Tay, said if the need to apply for a fund-raising permit is scrapped, it will save the charity 10 to 20 days of waiting time for the permit to be approved and will enable it to be more efficient in executing its fund-raising campaigns. Lions Befrienders serves seniors through befriending and other services.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, charities had to turn to online fund-raising events as large-scale in-person fund-raisers, such as charity dinners and flag days, were off limits.

With the Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed, the charities interviewed said that flag days and street collections would remain an important part of their fund-raising strategy.

Mr Asher Low, executive director of Limitless, said that flag days allow the charity to reach out to people who may not come across its online fund-raisers and it helps to create awareness of the charity's work.

The COC encourages donors to check that their donations are used for genuine charitable purposes by practising "Ask, check, give".

- First, ask the fund-raiser basic questions such as who the beneficiary is, what the donations will be used for and how donors can get updates about the beneficiary.

- Next, check the Charity Portal to verify that the beneficiary is a registered charity and if details of the fund-raiser have been disclosed.

- Give with peace of mind after ensuring that the donations are going to a genuine charitable cause.

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