We’ve all had encounters with the humble ‘chugger’. For those unfamiliar with the term, it stands for ‘charity mugger’, a despairing reference to the painfully sprightly, unnervingly persistent youngsters with clipboards who accost you on busy shopping streets for charitable donations.

The notion of chuggers has always provoked controversy, with some Londoners arguing that their presence on the capital’s streets is at best an annoyance, and at worst a form of harassment.

… “Was accosted by a Red Cross chugger at the station,”…

Vexed chugger-victims have, unsurprisingly, been taking to Twitter to voice their annoyance. “Was accosted by a Red Cross chugger at the station”, said one commuter. “What a stupid place to stand. Who has time to stop & chat when catching the train home!”

Another annoyed charity target expressed a desire for “an interactive map for daily chugger watch so I can plan my walking route to avoid chuggers.”

…outlaw the practice…

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that one London borough is in the final stages of passing heavy regulation on the ‘chugging’ practice, in an attempt to placate aggrieved residents.

Councillors in Islington, North London, are now looking to outlaw the practice of chugging in key areas of the borough, including Archway, Highbury Corner and Old Street.

…to follow the trend and crack down…

One Labour Islington councillor told the Evening Standard that enough was, quite simply, enough. ‘”There are too many, they hassle people and they are in your face”, he said. “It seems to be legal robbery in some ways and it gives charities a bad name. The time has come to tackle this nuisance.”

Islington are not alone in voicing their concern – the annoyance appears to have spread north, with the announcement this week that Newcastle City Council are looking to follow the trend and crack down on chugging.

 …send out a troop of “charity muggers”…

Worryingly, findings from a paper produced by the Council suggest that money the charity receive isn’t spent in the manner donors might expect. Charities, the paper claims, pay as much as £100 to private agencies to send out a troop of “charity muggers” onto central streets in Newcastle such as Northumberland Street, in search of donors.

There is also concern about the negative way “chugging” affects the city’s image. “We want to make the city centre an attractive place to come”, says Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council.

…it is hard for authorities to ban the practice entirely.

“Unfortunately the behaviour of some ‘chuggers’ puts people off.  That’s not good for local shops and businesses or the image of Newcastle.”

Nevertheless, given the altruistic aims of the chugger movement, however bothersome it may prove to the average pedestrian, it is hard for authorities to ban the practice entirely.

… strike deals …

Instead, several cities have chosen to strike deals with chugging agencies. In Manchester, local authorities took the decision in 2011 to negotiate with charities employing face-to-face fundraisers.

In an agreement between the fundraising industry’s regulators and city bosses, it was decided that chuggers could only frequent four sites in the city centre and could only campaign during working hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

As the issue continues to spiral from a local nuisance to a national issue, it seems likely that other local authorities further afield will push for similar negotiations.

In the meantime, try to keep your rage at being ‘chugged’ to a minimum – for now, at least, they’re still hovering on the right side of the law.

Image courtesy of Howard Lake


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London-based broadcast and online journalist, with a penchant for sports.

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