COUNCIL chiefs are looking at imposing tough restrictions on ‘aggressive’ charity collectors operating in Blackburn and Darwen town centres.

Borough executive board members are looking to crackdown on ‘chuggers’ on its land and surrounding streets before the festive season after complaints from the public.

They fear so-called ‘charity muggers’ are jeopardising their ambitious plans to revive Blackburn town centre.

The move is in response to claims by Charity Aid, which represents volunteer fundraisers, that paid ‘chuggers’ keep hundreds of pounds themselves and deter giving.

Hyndburn and Burnley councils have already taken similar action.

The Public Fund Raising Association, representing professional collectors, said voluntary codes of practice agreed with councils were the way to deal with any problems.

The crackdown has been welcomed by town centre traders’ bosses.

Blackburn with Darwen regeneration boss Maureen Bateson said: “We are looking at tough restrictions on ‘chuggers’.

“We want to control the number of collections, the number of collectors and the tactics they use.

“Some can be very aggressive.

“We are particularly concerned about asking for people’s bank card details.

“People should not be asked to hand over this personal information. It is an invitation for criminals and fraudsters to operate under the cloak of charity.

“Collectors should provide details of the charity’s bank accounts so they can make their minds up at home to give cash direct to the charity rather than the ‘professional’ fundrasiers.

“We can impose restrictions on council land but there are problems with public highways and elsewhere.

“Borough executive board members are looking at how best to bring in controls and licensing.

“We want it in place before Christmas when people are at their most generous.”

Burnley-based Charity Aid claims the practice puts people off giving money to charities and wants it banned.

Its new report includes responses from dozens of councils who regard chugging as ‘aggressive harassment’ of the public.

Chairman Peter Quinn said: “I am delighted Blackburn with Darwen Council is taking action.

“Chugging is paid professionals stopping people in the street to ask for charity donations.

“Chuggers now siphon off more than the first £100 of a donor’s money – without telling them this.

“I believe they now take over £100m a year from donations intended for charity.

“They’ve brought words like intimidation and hard sell into what used to be a noble calling. Volunteer groups are unanimous in opposing it and some have disbanded in protest.”

Blackburn chamber of trade president Tony Duckworth said: “Shoppers really don’t like chuggers. Aggressive collectors upset them. I welcome this action.”

Mark Smith, chairman of the town’s Business Improvement District, said: “This crackdown is a good idea. Aggressive ‘chugging’ deter shoppers from the town centre.”

A PFRA spokesperson said: "We now work with almost 100 local councils across the UK to ensure that where fundraising takes place it is authorised and accountable.

“When councils work with us it gives them a range of powers, such as controlling where and when a limited number of fundraisers can work. It is a tried and tested model that has seen complaints fall in 70 per cent of local areas."