Charity Commission to charge for information

The Charity Commission is to charge for providing electronic copies of its information on registered charities if the information is to be used commercially.

An open board meeting today is expected to confirm the plan and make clear that charges will not apply to "charitable, philanthropic or benevolent use of the information".

It will also confirm that the commission will decline to provide the information at all if it is to be used for direct marketing purposes.

The charges will have most impact on organisations that ask for large amounts of information in a specified form - for example, 'all the charities in Bedfordshire'.

It is not intended to affect piecemeal and small-scale use of the register, which is a public document, by individuals and other occasional users of the website.

One organisation likely to be affected is GuideStar UK, the charity information website launched last month that relies on the commission for data on all 190,000 existing charities in England and Wales.

GuideStar is currently seeking commercial research and information contracts to help finance its future. Its start-up funding of £4.6m is expected to run out in March.

Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: "GuideStar is a mixture. It's seeking to sell its services to cover its costs, so it may well be operating commercially even though its overall mission is charitable."

The documents for today's meeting say: "Where the proposed purpose is both a charitable... and a commercial purpose, the charge will be levied."

A spokeswoman for GuideStar said it would wait to see more detailed plans before making any comment.

The charge will be "the actual cost of provision plus 6 per cent of the capital costs involved". Revenue will be passed back to the Treasury, not retained by the commission.

The commission has said it would be interested in taking over a restricted form of GuideStar if it failed to secure further funding (Third Sector, 30 November). GuideStar is faster and more searchable than the commission's own website.

Although GuideStar allows charities to add their own information, it has been criticised for duplication.

Some critics strongly oppose further public funding for the site at a time when the commission is suffering from spending cuts.

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