Checks in place to verify fund-raiser when permit for such activities by charities scrapped

From 2023, charities will no longer require a police permit to raise funds in public. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Those asking for donations to charities on the street will need to carry clear identification even though charities will no longer require a police permit to raise funds in public from 2023.

Such clear identification could include producing an official letter from the charity indicating details of the fund-raiser and a contact number that donors can call to ask for more information, according to a consultation paper on the new fund-raising regime the Commissioner of Charities (COC) put out in May.

The COC also has SMS and hotline verification services which the public can use to check that the fund-raiser is legitimate, COC Desmond Chin said in a letter to The Straits Times Forum page published on Wednesday.

Mr Chin was responding to two Forum letters by readers who expressed concern that the plan to scrap fund-raising permits may be abused by scammers to con donors.

From 2023, charities need not apply for a police licence or a fund-raising permit from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) before they raise funds in public, such as through flag days or asking for donations on the street.

The move is to reduce the administrative burden on charities and make it easier for them to raise funds in public.

Under the new rules, registered and exempt charities, as well as permit-holders raising funds for foreign charitable purposes, need to disclose details of their fund-raising campaigns on the Charity Portal before they start public fund-raising activities.

The Charity Portal is the COC's website.

Registered charities are those registered with the COC under the Charities Act, and exempt charities include any educational institution or religious body established by an Act of Parliament.

In his Forum letter, Mr Chin said: "These changes aim to allow bona fide charities to fund-raise under more practical conditions, even as we put in place safeguards to protect and help donors give safely."

To create a "safer giving ecosystem", charities have to provide additional disclosures about their fund-raising activities on the Charity Portal, so that donors can verify the activity's legitimacy, the COC said in a statement previously.

The COC said he will provide more details by the end of the year.

The news comes after street fund-raising resumed on July 1, 2022, after the police and NCSS stopped issuing such licences or permits on April 7, 2020, when the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures started.

In 2018 and 2019, the police and NCSS issued about 850 such licences and permits a year.

A COC spokesman told The Straits Times that charities that want to, for example, ask for donations on the street, currently must get a licence under the House to House and Street Collections Act.

At the same time, the COC regulates donations under the Charities (Fund-Raising Appeals for Local and Foreign Charitable Purposes) Regulations 2012.

Under the new regime, street fund-raising will be regulated under the Charities Act only.

Professor Mak Yuen Teen from the National University of Singapore's Business School noted that the COC is moving towards a "donors beware" system by scrapping the fund-raising permits and asking donors to check the Charity Portal.

He expressed concern that many donors, especially the less savvy ones, would not check the website before donating.

He said: "With the increase in fraud in all forms, I think the authorities should be cautious about relaxing the rules."

However, Professor Ho Yew Kee from the Singapore Institute of Technology said the new rules have checks and balances to ensure that it is not easier for scammers to strike as charities still have to do their due diligence through the Charity Portal before they ask for donations.

He pointed that under the current system, scammers can also forge the police permit to try to con the public.

He added: "Some people feel that as long there is a fund-raising permit, it's good enough for them and they just drop their money into the donation tin.

"But we have to educate donors to do their own checks and ask the right questions. And we should embrace this change, let it take effect and monitor the situation, rather than sticking to the old way of doing things out of concern of risk."

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